Skiers revving up; resorts hoping for replay of last year
Snowmaking has its place but can't substitute for the real thing
By Bob Dunn
There are those of us who hate snowstorms, and those who love them, but very few are indifferent. Some love the heavy storms that paralyze traffic but provide great skiing and boarding, while others say it is definitely time to head south for the mild or warm weather.
Boot Spur, Hillman's Highway, Tuckerman's Ravine, Huntington Ravine and Mount Washington with great snow depth last season. (photo by Marianne Dunn, taken from Wildcat Mountain)
It would be great for the winter sports resorts in New England if every winter were like last season. The resorts had plenty of snow, and the only problem was getting all the grooming done in time for the arrival of eager skiers and boarders. Many of the resorts left certain glades and trails un-groomed so that the more experienced riders could enjoy the powder. The "Old Farmer's Almanac"
is forecasting that this winter will be colder and snowier than normal; the resorts would love that to happen. On average the resorts are usually looking out the window for the snow storms and maybe doing a few dances or prayers. Although they can make their own snow provided with cold enough weather, it is much easier and far less expensive if God makes the snow rather than bringing in the many workers and fuel that are needed for man to make adequate snow.
New England resorts have plenty of experience in adjusting to a lack of natural snow cover, given the regions unpredictable weather. The advent of man-made snow machines in the late Fifties and early Sixties certainly helped alleviate the problem. Investors and mortgage banks catering to those in the ski business became much more comfortable knowing that some kind of snow surface would cover a percentage of a given mountain, simply given cold enough temperatures.
Many winter vacationers to ski country, however, think that making snow is automatic. Just turn on the machines and wait until an adequate amount of snow is covering the slope or trail. Snowmaking is not artificial snow. It is real snow made by men and women pumping water under pressure, mixing it with pressurized air and firing the tiny droplets into the air from various types of snow guns. If temperatures are below freezing, the droplets turn to snowflakes; if above freezing, it rains. Some of the more advanced systems are controlled from a central computerized station, and the individual snow towers on the mountain can sense temperature and wind, adjusting the flow of water and air automatically; but there are only a few of these sophisticated systems in North America. Most mountain systems require a crew to monitor each tower or gun, calibrate the ratio of water to air, and adjust settings for wind direction to provide good coverage. The colder and drier the air, the more snow they can make.
Tower nozzles take advantage of the wind and cover the slopes with snow. (photo by Larchmont Engineering)
Resorts tend to try to make an initial base of anything that may provide a slippery surface. Grooming crews and machines then go to town on that base and provide good sliding until it gets pushed to the side by the skiers and boarders, and the result can be a very fast and icy surface. During marginal temperatures the slopes and trails are only partially covered with snow and provide rather narrow paths at times down the mountain. Add numerous skiers and riders, and I sometimes comment that you need elbow pads in order to descend slopes and trails that are in this condition. This same traffic jam can occur with plenty of snow, when the crowds descend on a resort.
You will enjoy the best skiing in all conditions if you arrive at an area early. The surfaces will be newly groomed and not yet scraped down to the possible underlying icy surface. Also realize that the edges of the snow surface on the trail or slope will usually have a thinner snow depth. If you ski on the far edges of the trail, you may scrape through to the frozen ground, which will do a number on your finely tuned equipment. Many experienced riders tend to keep old equipment that they use when faced with early conditions like this.
Skiers getting ready for a race when conditions (note ice base) must be better on the slopes. (photo by Bob Dunn)
When conditions are marginal or slopes crowded, I recommend standing by the side of the trail and waiting for a lull in the traffic. Then push off to enjoy some turns; if you are overtaken by skiers or riders, pull off to the side and wait until the next lull while you enjoy watching the bumper pool that is going by on the trail or slope. If skiing or boarding with children, protect them from oncoming traffic by letting them go first; you ski behind to serve as the blocking back to slow more aggressive skiers and riders who may be approaching from above.
Although this is only November, it won't be long before you find yourself on the slopes -- some resorts have already begun making snow to build up a base on the trails and slopes and will continue whenever the temperatures allow.
Copyright © Rye Reflections 2008. All rights reserved.