The Mt. Shasta Ski Park prides itself with an extensive snowmaking system which potentially can cover 277 acres out of a total of 425 acres with man-made snow. This installation helps to complement the natural snow cover during times when mother nature does not want to cooperate. Particularly in the beginning of the season an artificial snow layer makes a great base because the artificial snow crystals are denser thus making the snow last longer.
The secret to “blowing” snow from any of the Ski Park’s 19 snowguns is the combination of water under high pressure and cold air. The Ski Park has a water holding pond located uphill from the Marmot lift which holds 11 million gallons. This amount of water could cover 34 acres of slopes 1 foot deep with snow. It takes over 4 hours of snowmaking to cover approx ¾ acre 8 inches deep and it takes about 6 to 8 days of snow making to drain the pond. All that cold water is pumped by 4 large pumps with 550 psi of pressure through hundreds of feet of underground snow making pipe straight to the Ski Park’s 22 snow guns. Twenty of the snow guns are placed alongside the trail system served by the Marmot and Douglas chairs. Two snow guns are installed at the Super Pipe area on Upper Revolution run. Some of the snow guns are fixed but others are movable by snowcat.
The snow gun serves as the mixing chamber for the water and air. The mixture creates small water droplets under pressure, which are then forced out of the small gun nozzle into the air. When the mist of water droplets is released into the atmosphere’s lower pressure, it expands, releasing energy in the form of heat and “super cooling” the droplets, which then freeze as they drift to the ground. The temperatures must be at least 28 degrees to make quality snow. Wet Bulb Temperature is a temperature measurement that combines the ambient air temperature and the moisture content. Water freezes at 32 degrees F, but in most cases, it’s not cold enough for snowmaking, even when the cooling effect of the compressed air is factored in. The moisture in the air is a key factor in successful snowmaking.
The adjustment of the air/water mixture, along with the selection and placement of the guns, is part of the process that constitutes the snowmaker’s art. Atmospheric conditions change constantly even between different areas of the Ski Park slopes.
Snowmaking crews are busy every minute of the night adjusting the air/water mixture in an effort to keep all the guns operating efficiently.
It is always a challenge to find the right temperature window. Particularly during inversion conditions snowmaking can be hindered because warm air is trapped on the ground prohibiting the operation of the snow guns.
At the Ski Park the snowmaking strategy is to make snow in the base area first before moving up the mountain. After piles of artificial snow are made at one location, the guns are moved to a new location and the snow cats start pushing the piles of snow. The piles are pushed to cover each run with a snow base of about 18?. The layers are then groomed two or three times to create a smooth, even snow surface for our guests to enjoy.
Snow making is indeed an art and a constant challenge, but when the conditions are right and the snow accumulates in big piles it is a rewarding experience for the Ski Park snow making crew!
Today’s skiers and snowboarders expect a high quality recreational experience. The prime ingredient is a well-groomed snow surface on ski slopes. Slope grooming has become a standard practice in any modern ski & snowboard resort! The relatively recent expectation by guests to enjoy artificial snow surfaces in the form of terrain parks and halfpipes has raised the bar of snow grooming to a new level!
It is the intent of this article to familiarize our guests with the Mt. Shasta Ski Park’s grooming fleet, the philosophy of our grooming and our nightly grooming schedule. We also hope that this information will help the reader to gain a better understanding of the complexities of snow grooming. After all it is human ingenuity and technology, which attempts to match nature’s vagaries. The snow surface in an alpine realm is forever changing and conditions do exist that despite the use of the best grooming equipment the grooming surface may not always be perfect.
In response to this new challenge of optimizing slope grooming the Mt. Shasta Ski Park is proud to maintain a state of the art grooming fleet consisting of 8 snow cats and a new halfpipe grinder. Two of the cats in our grooming fleet are specialized cats. One of them is our recently purchased Bombardier BR 350 grooming snow cat. Bombardier – a leader in snow cat manufacturing, has developed the new BR 350 snow cat, which retails for $220,000. The BR 350 is the ultimate grooming and snow-moving system. It performs with greater efficiency, increased reliability, enhanced performance and is easier to operate. The cat has 345 horsepowers, weighs 11,552 lbs. and reaches a top speed of 11.5 mph. This snow cat features a computer, which interfaces between the machine and the driver. Literally with the move of a finger the driver of the cat can steer the equipment while moving the tiller and/or the plowing blade. The processor allows for a more efficient operation of the machine and in certain snow conditions for faster speeds.
Our second specialized snow cat is called a winch cat. While descending down ski runs skiers and snowboarders constantly scrape snow downhill thus decreasing a ski run’s snow depth.
Particularly on steep hills and during low snow years the operation of this specialized cat helps to counter this snow erosion. The winch cat is attached to a cable, which in turn is anchored to another cat, or a fixed anchor stationed at the top of the respective slope. A winch system mounted on the cat allows the cat to groom uphill even on the steepest slopes and thus is able to move snow up the slope by using its blade.
The other 6 snow cats in our fleet are used for the grooming of ski runs and the moving of snow for lift terminal ramps and other areas, which are in need of snow and for our terrain parks.
On a typical non-night skiing day groomers will start at 4:00 pm or at 10:00 pm or midnight on night skiing days. With a grooming fleet of 4 cats on the hill it takes an average 8.5 hours to groom all the runs. Due to the technological breakthrough and the associated introduction of “fat skis” management will purposely leave some runs ungroomed to offer bump & powder surfaces. One of the 4 cats is busy every night to reshape or reconstruct the snow features in our “Revolution” Terrain Park and our SUPER halfpipe. On weekends and holidays traditionally 100% of the ski runs and Nordic trails will be groomed whereas during weekdays grooming is limited to 80% of the runs. At a minimum 100% of the beginner, novice and intermediate terrain will be groomed every night. In addition we provide selected courtesy grooming before the start of night skiing shift.
The snow cat technology alone does not guarantee great grooming. The equipment must be operated with great expertise by grooming personnel who have acquired a feeling for the operation of the blade and the tiller of the cat and who understand what the right grooming speed is considering the conditions at hand. The ski park employs Gabe Olson – a highly experienced snow groomer- as our grooming supervisor. Four experienced journeymen and 3 operators are entrusted with the operation of the ski park’s snow cat fleet. Despite the best grooming equipment available on the market today and the expertise of our cat drivers grooming in certain climatic conditions can be challenging. . Keep in mind that diligent cat drivers were still out there all night in with sometimes no visibility at all fighting fatigue, wind poor visibility white outs While there is an infinite number of permutations in the snowfall variables like how much snow per time unit, when does snowfall start, temperature variations, moisture content, affect of wind on temperature etc. During extreme storm conditions excessive snow depths (a pattern which is typical for the Mt. Shasta Ski Park) the amount of surface, which can be groomed during a shift, may be limited simply by the fact that the cats may not be able to climb. In those circumstances the cats are simply trying to keep open a single path to the top of each chairlift. These single paths then become the lifeline, which allows for grooming the remainder of the slope surface after the storm. Without that single path access to the top of the lift may be delayed until conditions change and climbing of the machine becomes again possible.The timing of the actual snowfall over night can also cause grooming shortcomings. Sometimes heavy snowfall in the early morning hours can put four or five new inches of snow on already groomed slopes. This ill-timing of snowfall during the night does not leave enough time for the grooming fleet before the opening of the resort for the day shift to groom these runs a second time. In these situations the untrained observer gets the false impression that no grooming may have occurred during the night at all. We just listed a handful of examples when slope grooming becomes a true challenge and there are many additional situations!
The Mt. Shasta Ski Park has made a huge capital investment in it’s grooming fleet and allotted a large labor force to provide you with the best snow surface possible for your recreational enjoyment!
The next time you encounter a situation in our ski resort when you deem the quality of grooming below your expected standard feel free to check with management on the specifics of the conditions during the night which resulted in the violation of your expectations. Getting the answers to such circumstances will help you further understand the adversities which can occur during a night of grooming. Your expertise in snow grooming will make you a Ski Park ambassador who can educate your friends when complex grooming conditions exist!