November 26, 2007
Wintergreen, VA may be known for skiing and snowboarding, but when the snow doesn't fall, modern technology helps out.
Since 1976 Wintergreen has been making their own snow and in 2002 an automated computerized snow making system was installed to provide a winter wonderland that Mother Nature could not.
For the past four years, Scott Gunnell, the Slopes Service Manager, has been making snow at Wintergreen and while the process seemed complex, the result was just what people wanted.
"Using compressed air and pressurized water, we are able to produce snow right out of the gun", explained Gunnell.
They can even make snow when the air temperature is above freezing. They rely on the wet bulb temperature, or the lowest temperature that can be obtained by evaporating water into the air.
"Twenty Eight degrees wet bulb is when we start making snow and we can run up to Thirty Two degrees wet bulb."
Last weekend was the first weekend Scott and his team made snow because they had to wait for the ground to freeze.
"We are waiting for good cold air, you know, the ground freezes and then we run. Natural snow is nice, but we don't have to wait for it."
With a ski resort relying on snow making, water usage had to be a concern, especially this year. but Lake Monacan, the reservoir the water on the mountain flows into, provides plenty of water.
Gunnell was adamant about his water usage. "We are not on water restrictions, there is, it is a dry time and we are managing our water resources very carefully. Looking at every drop, spending hours making a decision whether to run or not.
What was interesting about the snow making machines was that they could decide what type of snow they wanted to make, the dry powdery kind or the more wet dense kind and give it another few months, the snow will be as high as nine feet.
Can patrons using the slopes feel the difference between natural snow and man made snow?
Gunnell doesn't think the average skier would know the difference. "Because of our automated snow making system we can dry the snow out throughout the entire mountain and make inches of powder across the whole resort, much like a three inch natural snow fall."
Wintergreen is getting ready to open the skiing season in the next few weeks. They already have about a foot of base snow on the slopes and with snow making capabilities to last all winter, 2007 - 2008 is sure to be a busy one.