Last year skiing was all about snowmaking. Mother Nature started off with a bang in November, but the natural snow fizzled out for most of December. Fortunately the Holiday Valley snowmaking system was able to make up where Ma left off. Holiday Valley has invested over $12 million in their massive snowmaking system over the past 46 years.
Holiday Valley operates an air/water snowmaking system, meaning that compressed air and water travel through a total of 40 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 snowmaking 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. The newer snowguns are "internally nucleated" which means that the air and water are mixed inside the head of the gun. This is ideal because it is a more controlled environment and as the mixture exits the nozzles it expands, causing the ice crystals to form faster by the super cooling effect of expansion. 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 mounds are affectionately referred to as “whales” and some skiers and riders actively seek them out to play on. The groomers eventually plane the mounds when the curing process is complete and we’re left with a wonderful corduroy skiing surface.
Holiday Valley’s snowmaking system is comprised of 540 tower guns (including 237 automated guns), 50 ground guns and 590 hydrants. Most of the snowguns are manufactured by HKD. The newest guns installed in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 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, on Sunrise, Edelweiss and Foxfire in 2013, on The Wall, Snowledge, Crystal and Morning Star in 2014 and Tannenbaum and Fiddler's Elbow in 2015. 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 26 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. So when you’re out having fun on the snowmaking “whales”, be sure to say thanks to the Holiday Valley snowmakers!