On December 22, 1977, Blue Mountain Resort opened as Little Gap Ski Area with four ski trails, two lifts, and one lodge. Forty years ago, snowmaking was a revolutionary advancement for slopes that didn’t see enough natural snow fall. To make snow and enhance trail coverage allowed for a longer ski season, an increase in skier days, a sustainable ski town, and greater business profit.
But snowmaking systems and machinery came at a hefty cost. In 1971, the New York Times reported the most expensive near $400,000 utilized a 7,000-horsepower J-65 Curtiss-Wright jet engine.
Allan Pettit, who retired this past spring after thirty-nine seasons as Mountain Ops Maintenance Manager, helped late owner, Ray Tuthill, make-shift our mountain’s first snow gun spray system using plastic PVC pipes and supermarket produce nozzles. Snow was blown with portable air compressors. Guns and hoses operated and adjusted manually.
“THE discovery of snowmaking was accidental. Somewhere someone forgot to turn off a sprinkler at the end of the day. It turned cold that night. By morning a blanket of snow surrounded the sprinkler.”
Strauss, Michael. “Snowmaking: A Flurry of New Machines.” The New York Times.
Fast-forward to our 40th anniversary, and we’re now housing the biggest and most efficient automated snowmaking system on the east coast. With a temperature low of 19 degrees F and a low humidity level of 30%, we had an optimal low wet-bulb temperature of 14 degrees F to test out our system this past weekend.
Making snow is completely dependent on the weather. Snowmaking works when the wet-bulb temperature drops to 28 degrees F. Wet-bulb temperature is the combination of air temperature and humidity. For example, 32 degrees F dry-bulb with 100% humidity equals 32 degrees wet-bulb. But, at 32 degrees dry-bulb with only 50% humidity, the wet-bulb temp is 26.9 degrees F and, theoretically, we can make snow. With every opportunity, every drop to 28 degree F wet-bulb, we will be ready. We will make snow.
Friday morning, we fired up the guns around 10 am, and continued hydrant water and air pressure checks until Saturday around noon. We successfully cleared the last faults in our automation system, communication issues caused by mouse-chewed wires, broken wires, loose connections, and flooded shelters that house the hydrants. Within the first 24-hours of snowmaking, all fan guns were hooked up and run, and the entire automation system was tested. We hit 7,700 gallons per minute (gpm) during snow production on Easy Out, Vista, Come Around, Midway, Upper & Lower Main Street, and Valley School East & West.
Saturday night, we fired up again for another twelve hours while the temps laid low, for a total forty-one hours of snowmaking. This window of ideal weather gives us a boost to base the trails. While the snow remains stockpiled, the outer layer freezes and forms a crust that protects the inner layers from undesirable elements like sun and rain. The stockpiles are untouched, not groomed, just waiting to be pushed out and covered with a few more feet of snow.
With the right temperatures, but poor extended forecast (this week predicting warmer days and rain), this snowmaking run was only a test and trial. As the colder weather settles in, with another forty-one hours (and, hopefully, many, many more) we anticipate ’round the clock snowmaking for (fingers crossed) an early opening.
Mike Kercsmar walks the line to clear snow and ice from the TA fan gun intake grill.
With a cleared automation system and kind words to Mother Nature, we’re just waiting to make it snow, make it snow, make it snow.
See you on slopes,