There’s one reason why the majority of resorts are able to most open their runs to the public all season and have them running in near perfect order – the snowmakers.
The snowmaker, also known as a snow cannon, produces snow by forcing water and pressurised air out like a cannon firing a cannonball, onto ski slopes. Snowmaking is mainly used at ski resorts to supplement natural snow, meaning that you don’t have to worry about arriving in resort to find loads of bare patches of mud all over the place.
Gone are the days of panicking that you’d booked to go on your budget ski holidays and there would be little to no snow, particularly in the lower altitude resorts. When the sunny days come, the resorts get busy making snow whenever possible, keeping the coverage decent, and the snow-seekers happy on their trip.
As you will well know, if you’re British, the weather cannot be relied on. And this counts for ski resorts around the world too. Thanks to multimillion-euro investments in snowmaking technology and equipment, resorts are fully operational despite the risk of spring-like weather coming in too soon, for example.
For anyone who skis or snowboards in any resort, it’s probably safe to say that they aren’t putting a huge amount of time into thinking about what it takes to create those tasty bluebird conditions that are so greatly craved! (Just so you know, it takes a lot of effort!)
The water is sourced from local lakes or reservoirs, depending on the resort, and is a self-sufficient kind of thing; it won’t drain the source – it actually takes only a small amount of water, and then it drains back in once it melts on the mountain anyway.
Depending on the resorts, there are two types of snow cannons that offer different things. Air/water versions make snow for the higher temperatures (around -1C) and can also be moved easily. Then there are the fan versions that work using cold, dry air (around -4C) to operate but they can produce massive volumes of high-grade snow to ride on.
The snowmakers work electrically, but they are energy efficient, and some fans are even automated, so they can function through a computer stored in a building.
So, the cannons have done their bit, and now it’s time for the crews to get to work on the snow cats, spreading the snow like butter on hot toast evenly across the runs before grooming it into the perfectly even corduroy that lights up skiers and boarders eyes no matter how many times they see it!
Teams can spend the evening night going to work on the mountain – positioning the guns, checking the quality of the snow, pushing it over the runs and grooming it and it’s a job that’s not taken lightly – the crew know the importance of getting it right, and they’re great at what they do.
When it comes to snow quality, snowmakers usually judge that by standing in the cold spray and watching the pellets land on their coats.
As you’ll probably realise, it’s a lot about technology these days, but it’s still just as much about simply getting out there and checking out to see if the pellets right; if the pellets are bouncing off, then they’re freezing just right.
If they notice the cannons are kicking out sticky pellets, the snowmakers turn the gun down because it’s not making good snow, and if they’re bouncing, the cannons get turned up and make even more. The days of heavy, wet man-made snow really are well and truly over, and just like eating Quorn chicken dippers (other brands are available), you really can’t tell the difference!
No matter what resort you head to, the boys and girls in charge of making those runs dreamy take great pride in what they do, and they know the mountain better than anyone else, which means they also know what their guests like. This is mostly because they know what they like when they’re out riding, so you can trust in the knowledge that whatever time of year you head off for some fun in the snow, there will be plenty of it!