Snowmaking on Mount Washington

Make It Snow. Make It Snow. Make It Snow.

Mount Washington Alpine Resort continues with its long-term plans to install a snowmaking system on the mountain in several areas.

Although Mount Washington Alpine Resort benefits from deep snowpacks, snowmaking is an investment in the future.
Although Mount Washington Alpine Resort benefits from deep snowpacks, snowmaking is an investment in the future.

Resort Director of Operations and Maintenance George Trousdell and his crew have been testing snowmaking machinery in several different sites over the past two winters, especially the Beginners’ area, and have designed a long-term plan that will see snowmaking in several different locations once everything is built.

‘Snowmaking’ is basically crystallizing water and placing it in specific places. “It’s the same stuff that falls out of the sky, there’s no chemicals in it,” says Peter Gibson, the Resort’s General Manager. “It’s water we’re pumping into the air and it’s freezing.  We’re not depleting the resource.”

Snowmaking is environmentally sound, says Trousdell, in that the snow melts, the water goes back into the ground and it stays within the watershed. “We’re really recycling the water.”

The Resort is looking 10 - 12 years in the future with its snowmaking plans, and planning that extensively took more time this year than anyone anticipated, says Trousdell. “For the most part our plan is all in place; when we get the go-ahead from head office we’ll see the next phase,” he says.
The build-out cost for the entire system? “We’re probably looking at $15 million.”                      

A pumphouse site has been identified near the Sunrise Quad chairlift, between Rick’s Ride and Schum’s Delight. Plans would include building the pumphouse, expanding the reservoir and bringing hydro into the pumphouse site. Then they could also look at running hydro and water to locations on the Coaster and the terrain park, Trousdell explained.

The Resort has a hydrologist monitoring and researching the aquifer at Mount Washington, and geotech surveys are underway as well with a consulting firm. It’s all part of the Resort’s research into its water supply. “Building out a snowmaking system for the Resort is a hefty task, but the new ownership group is committed to it”, says Gibson.

Snowmaking is an integral part of Pacific Group Resorts’ other ski hills, particularly in the eastern United States. “On the east coast you can’t be in the ski business without snowmaking,” says Mark Fischer, Executive Vice-President of Pacific Group Resorts, which owns Mount Washington Alpine Resort.

“Mount Washington, on the other hand, has generally enjoyed a lot of snow. There was a belief that they didn’t need snowmaking. We had a couple of tough years and now we are taking a look at it,” he says.

“For a place like Mount Washington, (snowmaking) is really just an insurance policy. It allows us to make sure we have good coverage early. It’s around in case we need it for some reason, to fill in on weak snow years. It’s not like the east coast, where you need to have it all the time.”

There is an art to snowmaking, says Fischer. “It’s not the same as natural snow, which falls the same everywhere. You don’t make snow on expert terrain: you could never put snowmaking in the Outback for example.

“The primary idea is to hit the areas progressively from the beginners’ area - start with the stuff on the bottom of the mountain,” he said. “The other thing that’s important is terrain parks take a lot of snow to build out features, and we want to cover night skiing.”

The future of coastal ski resorts has come into question with a couple of back-to-back weak snow years, and Gibson predicts snowmaking will be the difference. “We’ll only survive with snowmaking,” he says. “I think our long-term vision is to have snowmaking on one or two runs of every lift.”

In 2013, when they had a late snow year, there were still lots of people who visited the Resort. “We could have run some teaching programs,” Gibson says. It’s that kind of scenario that is the impetus for snowmaking installation at Mount Washington. “We want to concentrate on what we could perhaps open early if we had a late snow year,” he says.

“The whole theory behind snowmaking is you can guarantee your start date. That way people planning their holidays and booking accommodation have confidence that no matter what natural weather throws at us we will have some kind of product to ski on.”