Snowmaking is the production of snow by forcing water and pressurized air through a "snow gun" or "snow cannon", on ski slopes. Snowmaking is mainly used at ski resorts to supplement natural snow. This allows ski resorts to improve the reliability of their snow cover and to extend their ski seasons. Indoor ski slopes often use snowmaking. They are generally able to do so year-round as they have a climate-controlled environment.
The production of snow requires low temperatures. The threshold temperature for snowmaking increases as humidity decreases. Wet bulb temperature is used as a metric since it takes air temperature and relative humidity into account. Snowmaking is a relatively expensive process in its energy use; thereby limiting its use.
The snow cannon was invented by Art Hunt, Dave Richey and Wayne Pierce in 1950, who went on to patent it. In 1952, Grossinger's Catskill Resort Hotel earned a place in the history of skiing as the first in the world to use artificial snow. Snowmaking started to be used on a commercial scale in the early 1970s. Since then, many ski resorts have come to depend on snowmaking.
Snowmaking has become increasingly complex, so as to achieve greater efficiency. Traditionally snowmaking relied on having a skilled snowmaker to operate the equipment. The addition of computer control means that snow making can be controlled with greater precision to ensure that snow guns only operate when conditions make snowmaking possible. However, the process is not fully automatic as computers only supplement human control. Recently, all weather snowmakers have been developed by IDE.
The key considerations in snow production are increasing water and energy efficiency and increasing the environmental window in which snow can be made.
Snowmaking plants require water pumps and sometimes air compressors when using lances, that are both very large and expensive. The energy required to make artificial snow is about 0.6 - 0.7 kWh/m³ for lances and 1 - 2 kWh/m³ for fan guns. The density of artificial snow is between 400 and 500 kg/m³ and the water consumption for producing snow is roughly equal to that number.
Snowmaking begins with a water supply such as a river or reservoir. Water is pushed up a pipeline on the mountain using very large electric pumps in a pump house. This water is distributed through an intricate series of valves and pipes to any trails that require snowmaking. Many resorts also add a nucleating agent to ensure that as much water as possible freezes and turns into snow. These products are organic or inorganic materials that facilitate the water molecules to form the proper shape to freeze into ice crystals. The products are non-toxic and biodegradable.
The next step in the snowmaking process is to add air using an air plant. This plant is often a building which contains electric or diesel industrial air compressors the size of a van or truck. However, in some instances air compression is provided using diesel-powered, portable trailer-mounted compressors which can be added to the system. Many fan-type snow guns have on-board electric air compressors, which allows for cheaper, and more compact operation. A ski area may have the required high-output water pumps, but not an air pump. Onboard compressors are cheaper and easier than having a dedicated pumping house. The air is generally cooled and excess moisture is removed before it is sent out of the plant. Some systems even cool the water before it enters the system. This improves the snowmaking process as the less heat in the air and water, the less heat must be dissipated to the atmosphere to freeze the water. From this plant the air travels up a separate pipeline following the same path as the water pipeline.
Ice nucleation-active proteins
The water is sometimes mixed with ina (ice nucleation-active) proteins from the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae. These proteins serve as effective nuclei to initiate the formation of ice crystals at relatively high temperatures, so that the droplets will turn into ice before falling to the ground. The bacterium itself uses these ina proteins in order to injure plants.
The pipes following the trails are equipped with shelters containing hydrants, electrical power and, optionally, communication lines mounted. Whereas shelters for fan guns require only water, power and maybe communication, lance-shelters usually need air hydrants as well. Hybrid shelters allow maximum flexibility to connect each snow machine type as they have all supplies available. The typical distance for lance shelters is 100–150 feet (30–46 m), for fan guns 250–300 feet (76–91 m). From these hydrants 1 ½"–2" pressure resistant hoses are connected similar to fire hoses with camlocks to the snow machine.
There are many different forms of snowmaking guns, however they all share the basic principle of combining air and water to form snow. For most guns you can change the type or "quality" of snow by regulating the amount of water you are adding to the mixture. For others they are simply on or off and the snow quality is determined by the air temperature and humidity.
In general there are three types of snowmaking guns: Internal Mixing, External Mixing and Fan Guns. These come in two main styles of makers: air water guns and fan guns.
An air water gun can be mounted on a tower or on a stand on the ground. It uses higher pressure water and air, while a fan gun uses a powerful axial fan to propel the water jet to a great distance.
A modern snow fan usually consists of one or more rings of nozzles which inject water into the fan air stream. A separate nozzle or small group of nozzles is fed with a mix of water and compressed air and produces the nucleation points for the snow crystals. The small droplets of water and the tiny ice crystals are then mixed and propelled out by a powerful fan, after which they further cool through evaporation in the surrounding air when they fall to the ground. The crystals of ice act as seeds to make the water droplets freeze at 0 °C (32 °F). Without these crystals water would supercool instead of freezing. This method can produce snow when the wet-bulb temperature of the air is as high as -2 °C (28.4 °F). The lower the air temperature is, the more and the better snow a cannon can make. This is the main reason snow cannons are usually operated in the night. The mix of all water and air streams and their relative pressures is crucial to the amount of snow made and its quality.
Modern snow cannons are fully computerized and can operate autonomously or be remotely controlled from a central location. Operational parameters are: starting and stopping time, quality of snow, max. wet-bulb temperature in which to operate, max. windspeed, horizontal and vertical orientation, sweeping angle to cover a wider area, sweeping may follow wind direction.
- Internal mixing guns have a chamber where the water and air get mixed together and violently forced out an opening or through holes and fall to the ground as snow. These guns are typically low to the ground on a frame or tripod and require a lot of air to compensate for the short hang time of the water. Some newer guns are built in a tower form and use much less air because of the increased hang time. The amount of water flow determines the type of snow that is to be made and is controlled by an adjustable water hydrant.
- External mixing guns have nozzles spraying water and air nozzles shooting air through the water stream to break it up into much smaller water particles. These guns are sometimes equipped with a set of internal mixing nozzles that are known a nucleators. These help create a nucleus for the water droplets to bond to. External mixing guns are typically tower guns and rely on a longer hang time to freeze the snow. This allows them to use much less air. External mixing guns are usually reliant on high water pressure to operate correctly so the water supply is opened completely and the flow can sometimes be regulated by valves on the gun.
- Fan Guns are much different than all other guns because they require electricity to power a fan as well as an on-board reciprocating piston air compressor, modern fan guns do not require compressed air from an external source. Compressed air and water are shot out of the gun through a variety of nozzles (there are many different designs) and then the wind from the large fan blows this into a mist in the air to achieve a hang time. Fan guns have anywhere from 12 to 360 water nozzles on a ring that the fan blows through on the front of the gun. These banks can be shut on or off by valves. The valves are either manual, manual electric, or automatic electric (controlled by a computer).
- Snow Lances are up to 12 meters long vertically inclined aluminum tubes at the head of which placed water and-or air nucleator. Air is blown into the atomized water at the outlet from the water nozzle. The previously compressed air expands and cools, creating ice nuclei on which crystallization of the atomized water takes place. Due to the height and the slow rate of descent there will be enough time for this process. Energy-saving, but in comparison to the fan gun smaller range and poorer snow quality, also greater sensitivity to wind. Advantages over fan gun: lower investment (only cable system with air and water, central compressor station), much quieter, half energy consumption per amount of snow. Maintenance and wear. Regulation possible in principle. Working pressure of 20-60 bar. There are also small mobile systems for the home user that are operated by the garden connection (Home Snow).
Smaller versions of the snow machines found at ski resorts exist, scaled down to run off household size air and water supplies. Home snowmakers receive their water supply either from a garden hose or from a pressure washer, which makes more snow per hour. Plans also exist for do-it-yourself snowmaking machines made out of plumbing fittings and special nozzles.
Volumes of snow output by home snowmakers depend on the air/water mixture, temperature, wind variations, pumping capacity, water supply, air supply, and other factors.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Snow cannon|
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- Selingo, Jeffrey (2001-02-02). "Machines Let Resorts Please Skiers When Nature Won't". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
- "Making Snow". About.com. Retrieved 2006-12-16.
- US patent 2676471, W. M. Pierce, Jr., "Method for Making and Distributing Snow", issued 1950-12-14
- On This Day: March 25, BBC News, accessed December 20, 2006. "The first artificial snow was made two years later, in 1952, at Grossinger's resort in New York, USA. "
- Jörgen Rogstam & Mattias Dahlberg (April 1, 2011), Energy usage for snowmaking
- Robbins, Jim (May 24, 2010), "From Trees and Grass, Bacteria That Cause Snow and Rain", The New York Times