There are a lot of moving pieces involved in making snow at a ski resort and nearly as many misunderstandings about how it all works. Here are some of the most common myths about snowmaking and what it really takes to make snow at Blue.
Myth #1 – We can blow snow as soon as the thermometer hits O° C, or when there is snow on the ground in Collingwood.
First let’s start with the basics. Machine-made snow is created when water is pumped into one of three varieties of very specialized guns. To help the water freeze, 420 of Blue Mountain’s 600 snow guns are tower guns, which allow the water droplets to fall farther in the air than the traditional “sled” gun. Water flows past a jet of pressurized air and is atomized, cooled and projected onto the hill. Like natural snow, these frozen particles fall and collect on the ground.
The snowmaking system at Blue can blow snow at temperatures as warm as -2.2ºC and even at that temperature, a lot depends on other fatctors such as humidity, wind speed and direction, water temperature, and how long the window is of colder temperatures. The ideal temperature where snowmaking is most effective is -6ºC because it is at this temperature where most of the aforementioned factors are working in our favour.
Myth #2 – Snowmaking is completely controlled by a highly specialized computer automated system. It can be turned on and off with the flick of a switch. Snowmakers can be replaced by technology.
Now, this is certainly not the case. Snowmaking is, simply put, a combination of science, technology, strategy and people. Our snowmaking operation is called the most sophisticated system in Canada for a reason – the minds behind it are brilliant!
Although Blue Mountain’s valve system was developed by our very own Dan Skelton and partner Jamie Russell, and is remotely controlled, there are hours of preparation, quality control checks and strategizing for optimal coverage and product performance. Snowmaking towers on the mountain can be turned on and off with the system developed by Dan and Jamie, however, the opportunity to take advantage of very small snowmaking weather windows has yet to be taken over by technology and still heavily depends on human beings to make the calls. Although snowmaking systems have evolved significantly over the last 20-25 years, we still rely heavily on the snowmaking team here at Blue.
Myth #3 – The guns blow snow onto the hill in massive quantities… that means we can turn the guns off during the day so that skiers and snowboarders don’t get annoyed.
Our reliance on snowmaking to provide early season skiing is absolute. Our unique lake affected micro-climate, highly variable early season temperatures, combined with the need to rapidly develop a snow base adequate to meet the demands of skiers and groomers, force us to make snow during operating hours. That means that when we have the weather, temperature, air pressure, wind direction, humidity and so on, we need to take advantage of every early season opportunity and blow snow.
Myth #4 – Snowmaking is simple.
Hopefully, this point has been made clear. Our snowmaking operation is far from simple. It is a clean, pristine, highly specialized and well-oiled engine. Here are just some of the pieces that put it all together:
- The combined knowledge of Blue Mountain’s snowmaking team which stacks up to over 100 years of experience
- Continued technology enhancement to the system and our 1000 gallon/minute snowmaking pump which bring Blue Mountain Resort’s total snowmaking capacity to 13,000 gallons of snow per minute.
- 32 miles of steel pipe buried beneath the frost line
- Four (4) 5,000 CFM air compressors at 150 PSI
- Twelve (12) l,000 U S GPM water-pumps
- Three (3) reservoirs (45,000,000 gallon capacity in total)
- 600 snow guns including 420 HKD Fixed Tall Tower guns
- The ability to operate 220 guns at one time
- Ten (10) Mobile Tower Guns
- 25 Sled Mounted Guns
- Three (3) km of water pipeline from Georgian Bay
- Combine all that with the science and intuition of working with Mother Nature and you’ve got some very specific and sometimes complicated elements that are needed to make Blue go from green to white.
So there you have it – the condensed version of Snowmaking at Blue Mountain. Next time you are out enjoying the slopes take a look around you and think twice before telling your friends that snowmaking is simple.
And if you are wondering when all of the factors might be in line, you can check out our web cams for daily updates and be sure to stay in touch with Weather and Snow Conditions at Blue Mountain.