A Recipe for Snow

By Beacon Staff

Mother Nature pulls out her freezing temperatures and adds water to get snow. While her recipe only needs two ingredients—frigid air and water—manufacturing snow at Whitefish Mountain Resort requires a bit more science.

Making snow takes water. To make a cubic foot of snow requires about 3.2 gallons of water. To cover an acre with a foot of manufactured snow takes 139,000 gallons of water.

But once you have water, temperatures must be below freezing. “It’s ideal for temps to be 25 and below for 24 hours before you start snowmaking,” says Chester Powell, Director of Operations for the resort. “If nighttime temps drop to 12, but days warm up to 35, you lose productivity.” Since temperatures dropped low this past week, the snowmaking guns at the resort have been blasting since last Tuesday. Eight snowmakers work 12-hour shifts round-the-clock to keep 25 snow guns pumping out the white stuff.

“Even though we don’t have natural snow right now, it’s a positive thing to have the ground frozen,” adds Powell. Frozen earth prevents the manufactured snow from melting on contact. It maintains natural refrigeration and helps out later with preventing melt-out from beneath.

If you turn your hose, it won’t make snow. Just ice. To make snow, water particles must disperse into the air. That’s where snowguns, or compressed air fans, aid in snowmaking. The water comes into the gun, and the fan that shoots it out. The result produces a snowflake similar to natural snow. “The longer the hang time in the air, the better the result,” says Powell. That’s why you’ll often see snowguns angled upwards—to allow the water droplets more contact with the air.

By nature, snow made by human hands is denser than the snow made by Mother Nature. As a result, the snowmaking crews blow the snow into huge piles, called whales, which then sit for several days to cure. After water leeches out, grooming machines can push the snow where they need it rather than fighting with a heavy cement consistency.

“Lately, it’s been really good for snowmaking,” says Powell. Resort crews have been making snow in the Superpipe and beginner areas for early season lessons. “This has been good production,” says Powell, “so we’ll be able to move on later to heavy traffic areas.”