Blue Mountain is situated on the shores of Southern Georgian Bay and nestled on the Niagara Escarpment. Although this area of Ontario is stunningly beautiful, we are working within a very unique and at times unpredictable micro-climate. Weather conditions can vary drastically within just a few kilometres which makes for a finicky snowmaking environment.
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. We took some of top questions and misconceptions about making snow and asked our snowmaking experts to share what it really takes to make snow at Blue.
1. How do you make machine-made snow?
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.
2. How cold does it have to be to make snow?
We know you were just looking for a number but this question is actually a little more complicated than it sounds. 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 weather factors. It is never too cold to make snow, however, significantly cold temps could mean that snowmaking is less productive. That balancing act between taking advantage of the cold while being as sustainable an operation as possible is something our snowmaking team navigates every season. Thankfully, they are as passionate about getting the slopes open as all our skiers and riders are and they take that job seriously!
3. Can you start running the snowmaking system with the push of a button?
Blue Mountain’s valve system was originally developed by our very own Dan Skelton and partner Jamie Russel. Our snowmaking experts have used this remotely controlled system for over a decade alongside hours of preparation, quality control checks and strategizing for optimal coverage and product performance. As of winter 2023/24, Blue’s snowmaking operation will be run using an Human Machine Interface (HMI) system that will enable our team to get all of our over 750 snow guns running in less than half the time of the previous system.
4. Can you avoid making snow while the ski hills are open to skiers?
We get it, navigating the slopes while we’re making snow isn’t for everyone. To the best of our ability, our teams will try to avoid making snow while the lifts are turning however, our priority is always to make snow whenever we can to help set up for as long a season as possible. The recipe for ideal snowmaking windows requires colder temperatures as well as a few other specific ingredients:
- wind direction
- sustainable hydro usage
- snow depths in different areas across the mountain
- anticipated skier volume
With the cyclical winter weather patterns and the impacts of climate change, the perfect snowmaking windows can be increasingly challenging to predict and take advantage of. This is why Blue’s multi-year investment in snowmaking improvements is so important to keeping making sure we can all get the most of our favourite season.
5. Is machine-made snow better than natural snow?
Machine-made snow is essentially made up of the same stuff as Mother Nature’s: water + cold air. The snow produced by snow guns, however, is denser than natural snow, with less air between the water particles. The increased density of machine-made snow means that it holds up better to grooming compaction and skier traffic. Skiers may notice that their turns feel different when they go from natural to machine-made snow underfoot, but we have good news! Blue’s snowmaking investment includes an increased number of snow guns along each trail resulting in smaller, more frequent snow piles that can be more efficiently groomed to have a more consistent ski experience.
Want to learn more from the best snowmakers in the biz? We’ve broken down the basics here with Snowmaking 101. You can also join the conversation with our Ask a Snowmaker series on our @BlueMtnResort social channels!