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Snowmaking at Holiday Valley

Holiday Valley Snowmaking 101

Skiers and riders have come to expect total coverage and excellent snow quality most, if not all of the time. With that goal in mind, Holiday Valley has invested over $10 million in their massive snowmaking system over the past 44 years.

Holiday Valley operates an air/water snowmaking system, meaning that compressed air and water travel through a total of 28 miles of underground pipes to hydrants on 95% of the slopes. Under ideal conditions in full operations, the system can make 2.8 acre feet of snow per hour (about the amount of snow that would cover a football field with 2.8 feet of snow)!

So what are ideal conditions? According to Steve Crowley, Director of Mountain Operations and former head of Snowmaking, it is 18 degrees wet bulb with about a 10 to 15 mile per hour wind from the west and frozen ground. Wet bulb is the air temperature adjusted for the humidity, as the amount of water in the air affects the rate of evaporation; the dryer the air the quicker water evaporates and the more cooling takes place.

Here’s a simplified version of how snow is made…water and compressed air move up through the snowgun pipe and at the top, the water sprays out through nozzles and breaks up into fine droplets. The compressed air coming out through the nozzle further breaks up the droplets and as the air expands it has a cooling effect to help freeze the fine droplets. Once a nucleus forms, other molecules of water freeze around it to form a crystal. As they fall from the 30 foot towers, the crystals continue to freeze and accumulate in mounds on the ground. A new snow crystal is like an egg with a liquid center inside the frozen shell, so the mounds are left to “cure” the snow. The groomers plane the mounds when the process is complete and we’re left with a wonderful corduroy skiing surface.

Holiday Valley’s snowmaking system is comprised of 475 tower guns (including 161 automated guns), 50 ground guns and 560 hydrants. Most of the snowguns are manufactured by HKD. The newest guns installed in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are HKD Tower Impulse guns which are adjustable for air temperature and humidity. As the air temperature and humidity drop, the amount of compressed air can be decreased, which saves energy.

In 2005, Holiday Valley installed automated snowmaking on Cindy’s Run which allowed snowmakers to turn all of the guns on at the same time. The latest round of automated snowmaking is the HKD Klix system, which was installed on Mardi Gras in 2011, on Yodeler, Morning Star and the Candy Cane loop in 2012 and Sunrise, Edelweiss and Foxfire in 2013. Automation has the advantage of quick startups and shut downs, so even if favorable snowmaking temperatures exist for just an hour, the system can make snow. The Klix system also has weather stations that monitor temperature and humidity and the guns can automatically and individually adjust to changes.

The water for the snowmaking system is supplied from the ponds on the golf course and the 64 million gallon Spruce Lake, located at the top of the Spruce Lake Quad lift. Spruce Lake was constructed during the summer of 2006 and it doubled the amount of water available for snowmaking.
The final and most important element of the Holiday Valley system is the hard working and experienced snowmaking crew. These 29 hearty men work through the dark of night in the coldest and nastiest of weather to create each one of those delicate crystals. Most of their work is from the beginning of December through the end of February, depending on the season. Their final work of the year is the creation of the giant snowbar at the base of Yodeler for Winter Carnival. So when you’re enjoying that cold beer with your friends and watching the Dummy Downhill this March, be sure to give a toast to the Holiday Valley snowmakers!