Zen and the art of snowmaking
How Mt Norquay opens early and maintains its runs
As skiing and snowboarding rose in popularity through the last 90 years, ski resorts were faced with an interesting challenge: how to keep the ski experience the same with larger numbers of skiers gracing the slopes over the longest season possible.
The 3 main advances in ski area technology have been lift systems, machine grooming systems, and snow-making. In this article I’ll dive into the behind the scenes world of snow-making.
The first assumption that modern skiers make about man-made snow is that it’s artificial. Although it is made by a machine called the Snow gun, it’s formed in the same way that nature creates snow. Atmospheric snow starts as water vapour in clouds. Once the vapour gets heavy enough it starts to fall as rain, now if the temperature is cold enough the droplets of rain will freeze into snowflakes on their journey with gravity to your favourite mountain.
In much the same way the snow gun uses two main components to create snow. Firstly, hoses attached to the gun push a large volume of water which then hits an atomizer encourages our H2O friends into a fine spray that can freeze into snow flakes quickly. Second, a powerful fan sends the water vapour into the air and in the direction that it’s needed most. Otherwise you would get a very neat pile of snow at the base of the snow gun burying it and your chances at covering a full ski run. not fun.
Equally as important as water and the air blower is the temperature outside. Mt Norquay opens as early as possible when the temperature at night drops below 0 C. I talked to Norquay’s general manager Andre Quenneville about this and he mentioned the efficiency of snow making has a direct correlation with freezing temperatures. “If you have temperatures at 0 snow making is much less efficient than at -10 when you can have efficiencies upwards of 90%.”
Once those temperatures hit the magic freezing point we need a good system and team to capitalize on it. That would be our great team of snow making experts.
Michael “Radar” Rae manages a team of 12 that work around the clock using our state of the art snow making infrastructure to push as much snow as they can early in the season. Temperature isn’t the only factor though in determining whether snow will accumulate. “It’s essentially just a game of making sure every gun is working right” says snow-making guru Rae. The snow making team constantly adjusts and readjusts as the temperatures change to maximize their efficiency.
Some would say a dream job, our snow makers here at Mt Norquay are night owls, which for them is ok since they can ski all day (or sleep but who needs that when you can ski). Others might say it’s a thankless job done by a tough group of unsung heroes.
All this adds up to Mt Norquay opening our slopes earlier than most North American ski resorts and creating the perfect grooming that Norquay is known for, so next time you rip up a stellar groomer on Mystic or launch yourself into the air in our terrain park, remember to send good vibes to our snow-making team.