Jan 1, 2020 | 2020, Marmot

Snowmaking on Mount Washington

There are only two places in the world where making snow at a ski resort presents a challenge to the experts: New Zealand, and Vancouver Island. All Mount Washington Alpine Resort’s owners can say is: Challenge Accepted!
Temperature, humidity and wind are all snow making concerns for a Resort surrounded by water. Susan Quin photo

Mount Washington, located in the heart of the Island Mountain range on Vancouver Island, is known for its record mid-season snowfalls. Early snow, however, can be a bit of a guessing game.

When Pacific Group Resorts Inc. purchased the Island Resort four years ago they envisioned snowmaking equipment enhancing the early season by laying a foundation of man made snow in high-traffic areas, like the Beginners’ Area or the Tube Park.

Since snowmaking equipment is a standard part of PGR’s American Resorts, Company Officials started searching for a way to bring the process to Mount Washington. “If there has been one surprise, it’s been how difficult it has been to make snow at Mount Washington,” said Mark Fischer, Executive Vice-President of PGR Inc. “Manufacturers of snow makers tell us the two most difficult places to make snow are New Zealand and Vancouver Island.”

Temperature, humidity and wind are all concerns for a Resort surrounded by water. “There can be many challenges with snow making in our climate zone,” says Layne Marett, the Resort’s new Director of Mountain Operations. “Freezing level fluctuation, humidity, temperature and wind are all factors that play heavily when planning to make snow. Duration of cold temperatures and future forecasts are always something to look for to ensure the snow we make will be the best quality and quantity given the time frame and weather window.”

Man made snow can withstand warm temperatures a bit better than natural snow, Marett adds, “but it is not cost effective to run the snow making system if there is a chance of a really warm spell coming in the following few days.” A few cold days to freeze the ground followed by six or seven days of cold temperatures in the -3 to -12 degrees Celsius range are optimal. “As it is a new system, we will try when we can to make snow to find the best method, even if the weather window is short.”

Maintenance personnel, grooming department and snow removal team members all helped to install the system this summer. “We will be excited to test it out whenever we can to perfect the quality and quantity for these conditions,” Marett says. “We will have the ability to ‘bulk up’ the natural snow or make snow for the Grooming Department if they may need snow for other runs nearby.”

The Resort has spent the past two winters experimenting with snowmaking equipment from different manufacturers, trying to find the right combination that fits what they want to do at Mount Washington. “Nobody had tried to make snow on Vancouver Island before,” Fischer said. Last year the Beginners’ Area and Tube Park were covered. This year, staff have spent the summer laying groundwork for snowmaking to cover alpine runs from the base of the Eagle Express Chairlift to the top of Whiskey Jack.

More than two kilometres of iron ductile pipe was buried underground to keep it from freezing, and that doesn’t include the lateral pipes that connect to each hydrant. A snowmaking ‘pond’ was dug out and lined with impermeable clay to store water. A powerful pump house capable of providing water to the numerous snow making machines was also built. “It’s been a labour of love,” Fischer said. “The guys worked really hard on that and we’re really excited about it.”

The multi-million-dollar Project will change the face of early-season skiing at the Resort, giving visitors a “top to bottom skiing experience. That’s exciting,” he said. “It’s good intermediate terrain but it gets you up to the top of the mountain.” Marett agreed. “Snow making is a great addition to Mount Washington. The ability to make snow will also help provide additional certainty for our guests when making early season plans to visit the mountain, especially over the holiday period.”

After two years of experimentation PGR has finally settled on snow guns from Techno-Alpin. Pacific Groups Resorts Inc. uses some of their equipment at their Resorts in New Hampshire and Wisp in Maryland. “We have a mix of (equipment) at different places because different snow guns do different things, in different locations,” Fischer explained. The other manufacturers whose equipment Mount Washington Alpine Resort tested out were helpful, Fischer added. “All the guns we tested, they all worked hard; it just turned out Techno-Alpin was the right product.”

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