A lot of work goes into getting Blue Mountain ready for Opening Day. While our guests are counting down the days to first chair, our mountain operations team is busy working behind the scenes, closely monitoring temperatures, waiting for the perfect time to turn on the snow guns. Today, conditions were prime and the unmistakable sound of the guns could be heard across the Resort. In honour of the first day of snowmaking and leading up to Opening Day, we are throwing the curtain open on our operations team, and inviting you into the world of snowmaking alongside our latest guest blogger, Steve Spiessman. As a regular contributor to Lift Line, Steve will take you inside the science of snow, answering many of the questions we’ve heard year over year. But, that’s enough from us. Check out part one of Steve’s story below.
Hello, my name is Steve Speissman. If we have not had the good fortune of meeting on the slopes, I’m sure you will still recognize some of my handiwork on the mountain. I am the Director of Slope and Ground Maintenance at Blue Mountain Resort. I manage various departments including Grounds Maintenance, Golf Maintenance, Trail Maintenance, Trail Grooming and more importantly, at this time of year, Snowmaking. When you hear that sweet sound of the snowguns blasting at the start of the season, it is my crew of 15 snowmakers, some of whom are the most experienced in the industry, that are making winter happen.
Born and raised in the Collingwood area, I’ve skied Blue for most of my life. I went to highschool in Meaford, and following graduation, attended Mohawk College. College education was just the starting point to the largely vocational training I received over the 20 odd years I have worked at Blue Mountain. My first job at Blue was as a lift operator, or “liftie,” on the long since removed Apple Bowl double chair. I loved working the lift and developed numerous life-long friendships with both guests and co-workers. In those early days, I recognized the satisfaction of working in this industry and could see many opportunities to learn the business from the ground up. So… I stuck to it. I worked my way through the various areas of mountain operations honing my skills and experience until I literally ate, slept and dreamt mountain operations. In early 2000, I took a sabbatical from my position as Slope Operations Manager and accepted the position of General Manager at another ski area. As the GM of a smaller Ontario ski area investing heavily in development, my mountain operations experience was the key to their success. However, I also knew this was my opportunity to further develop my business skills and expand my horizons beyond mountain operations. That’s how, in 2011, I was able to return to Blue, my first love, as Director of Slope and Grounds Maintenance. I’m proud of the work we do here and one my favourite parts of the job is seeing happy skiers and boarders on the slopes. As both a snowboarder and skier (having recently rediscovered my ski legs after a decade of one planking), I am a proud participant in one of the few sports that allows for equal participation across people of all-ages and abilities.
I’m happy to say that I’ve contributed to the long and storied history of snowmaking at Blue Mountain Resort. I am privileged to be a first-hand witness to the development and introduction of leading edge snowmaking technology. Concepts, equipment and operations have grown leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades; particularly considering that snowmaking was in its infancy only 30 years ago. I have seen the migration from complete reliability on energy-starving ground guns, to low energy tower guns, and most recently, super lower “E” guns that use less energy and make snow at higher temperatures. I have seen the original, labour intensive and time consuming mobile ground gun systems develop into permanently placed tower style guns operating from semi-automated and fully automated control systems. In fact, I was here when our President, Dan Skelton, developed Mr. Flakey, Blue Mountain’s proprietary automation software. This program remains a leading example of snowmaking automation development and is still used at Blue today. Hands down, Blue Mountain snowmaking operations are at the top of this industry.
For me and my team, snowmaking is a finely-tuned process that successfully combats unpredictable Ontario winters, helps Blue guard against mid-season meltdowns and lets us see the very best possible ski conditions on a daily basis. Now, it’s no secret that at times, some of our guests can be displeased with snowmaking operations and I understand some of the challenges that can come with the job. With that in mind, I can assure you that snowmaking strategies are very carefully planned with guest experience always at the forefront. So, here’s what I’m committing to you: a behind the scenes look at the five W’s of snowmaking as we lead up to Opening Day. I’m going to take you through the snowmaking process and hopefully, provide some insight into the science that’s helped build my career and shaped the winters of loyal Blue Mountain enthusiasts. So, stay tuned. The snow guns are ready to blow and with colder temperatures on the way, prime snowmaking conditions are right around the corner.