How the Snowmakers Got Us to Opening Day

Opening day has come and gone and after a few days off for scheduled lift maintenance, we’re back at it, having opened the Resort for the remainder of the season on the morning of Thursday December 5, 2013. In Steve’s fourth post, he tells us how the snowmaking team pulled it off.

A November 30 open was a huge accomplishment for us. So huge, in fact, that it was only the second time in the last decade that we opened our slopes in the month of November. If you were paying attention to the news in the days preceding open, the official word from the Resort was always: “no opening day set yet, but the snowmakers are working diligently to open sooner rather than later.”

How did we pull it off?

To answer that question, it may be best to go over some of the more challenging conditions in which to make snow. Typically, extreme temperatures, both warm and cold, present the most difficult snowmaking conditions. While our guns are equipped to blow snow in mild weather, as warm as -2 C, these temperatures come with their own set of issues, chief of which is ensuring that we’re actually blowing snow and not rain! On the opposite side of the spectrum, extreme cold wreaks havoc on our team members. After the Resort closes to the public, our team of snowmakers are outside, running up and down the hill on snowmobiles checking and maintaining our snow guns. A snowmaker is out in the winter elements for hours on end, often only coming indoors once or twice in a shift. Many nights, even if it is clear outside your window, the mountain is under its own umbrella of a winter micro climate created by the guns running. You can imagine the physical toll that would take on someone during the coldest of winter nights. It truly takes a hardy, passionate individual to be a great snowmaker.

The sweet spot is between -7C and -12C and we were fortunate to find ourselves there for several hours during the three days and nights that preceded opening day. When you hit optimal conditions, magic can happen in a short period of time. Don’t believe me? I’ll let some numbers speak for themselves:

  • Blue Mountain’s snowmaking systems can pump 14,000 gallons of water per minute
  • 160,500 gallons of water pumped through our system creates one acre foot of snow per minute. At Maximum capacity Blue Mountain create one foot acre every 12 minutes.
  • Blue Mountain’s total acreage is approximately 360. If we do the math we see we can produce 360 foot acres of snow in about 3 days at maximum capacity.
  • In reality, because we have fall lines to build and various other terrain undulations to fill it takes a lot more snow to achieve adequate coverage. In ideal conditions, we can cover about 50% of the trails in less than 5 days and be open across the mountain in 8-10 days.

When the guns run for a prolonged period of time, snow can reach a depth of 6 to 8 feet in the coverage area of each gun. When that happens, we send out the groomers to push the piles and level out the snow across the rest of the hill. To open a run, we prefer a base of 12-24 inches of snow from top to bottom which represents a good working depth. To be confident of an adequate base to get us through the season, we look for 5-8ft on each critical trail and 3-5ft average on outline trails.

Suffice to say, after three days of ‘round the clock temperatures at or below -7 C, it was enough to guarantee our open with three trails: Tranquility, Memory Lane and Graduate. Earlier this week we were forced to the plus side of the thermometer which renders snowmaking impossible. But fear not, we got up and running again on Friday December 6 and according to the long range forecast, we have at least seven solid days of cold weather coming, ranging from between -2 to -10 and are preparing to get even more trails open in time for the coming weekend.

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