In a high desert mountain environment, the art of snowmaking becomes a saving grace, allowing a ski area to provide a consistent winter season and product for guests, businesses and employees. In the West, some 91 percent of winter resorts utilize snowmaking.
Besides the 500 winter employees at Arizona Snowbowl, snowmaking also benefits Flagstaff’s winter economy, as visitors can make plans ahead of time to ski or snowboard and stay longer in town without depending on the weather. It also helps the community, as snowmaking ensures important programs and events will occur, like Special Olympics and Winterfest.
Snowmaking also benefits the environment. If natural snowfall is less than average, and temperatures remain at or below freezing, snowmaking can provide moisture to the forest, decreasing the threat of spring and summer forest fires. We’ve already seen this benefit in action. During the summer, firefighters were able to use the water from the snowmaking pond at Snowbowl to fight a fire on the Peaks.
How Snowmaking Works
Snowmaking works with natural processes, using air and water plus favorable temperatures, to provide a quality product for the enjoyment of outdoor winter recreationists. When all three items are present, Arizona Snowbowl can make enough snow overnight to cover a one-mile stretch of Route 66 – all four lanes – 12 inches deep!
In nature, there first must be moisture in the atmosphere to produce snow. This moisture condenses. When the weight of the moisture gets too heavy for the capacity of the air to keep it in space, it falls to the ground. If the air above the ground is cold enough, the moisture falls as snow.
Snowmaking shortcuts this process by eliminating the evaporation stage whereby water is forced through a snow machine and is bombarded with highly pressurized air. The compressed air fractures the water into very small particles as it moves through the machine, sending it into the atmosphere where, with a favorable temperature, the particles freeze and fall back down as snow. Therefore, this snow is not artificial in any sense of the word; it is snow, just made by machines.
Humidity and Cold Temperatures are Key Components
The process of snowmaking is dependent on the relationship of temperature and humidity to produce a quality product. In general, the less humid the air, the higher the temperature can be to make good snow. Nature has its art, but snowmakers are artists as well. And Snowbowl, with elevations above 9,000 feet, is blessed with low overnight temperatures and low humidity, making it one of the best locations in the country for snowmaking.
Depending on the type of machines – whether they use a combination of air and water or are airless – snowmakers can work the controls to produce a wetter, heavier product or a drier, lighter product. Powder may be the most fun to enjoy but it is not optimal for a base, which requires snow with a higher moisture content.
Snowbowl uses airless machines, which are more expensive but more in line with the National Ski Areas Association’s sustainability program because they require fewer pipes to operate and less electricity.
Snowmaking Has Begun
Snowmaking typically begins in November. Made over bare ground, machine-made snow establishes a 12- to 24-inch base and maintains a good snow surface throughout the entire season. Natural snow that falls on top of the base minimizes the need for additional snowmaking and also opens up additional terrain. The impact of snowmaking was showcased in the 2012-13 season when natural snowfall was down 25 percent, yet skier visits were up 40 percent. Snowmaking also ensures the success of special events such as the Dew Downtown, races, and everyday enjoyment of the Sunset Terrain Park.
At Snowbowl, expert machine operators are already working at night preparing trails for the projected first day, Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving. Ski resort managers anticipate at least 60 percent of the trails will be open by mid-December and even more by Christmas. So, as you may well imagine, Snowbowl snowmakers are busier than Santa’s elves! The first trails to open will be served by the Hart Prairie and Sunset chairlifts and Little Spruce conveyor, followed by the Agassiz chairlift.
With snowmaking, businesses, organizations, schools and families are already making plans to visit Flagstaff this winter to enjoy our beautiful outdoors and spend time in our thriving ski town. FBN
Ksenia Hartl is the marketing coordinator at Arizona Snowbowl and works with group reservations. She can be contacted 928-779-1951, ext. 117, or email@example.com. For more information, visit www.arizonasnowbowl.com.