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The Science Behind Snowmaking

Mt. Crescent Ski Area is poised to open next month, but our team is already busy testing our snowmaking equipment to ensure your experience is snow much fun for the entire family.

We asked Pottawattamie Conservation’s Site Manager for Mt. Crescent, Chris Andrew, what goes into snowmaking, what makes for the best snowmaking weather, and what you can expect this season. Get the scoop below!

 

When do we start making snow for the season?

We usually make snow around Thanksgiving. It takes more than a week to two weeks to get snow to what’s needed to open and run. Then we hope for cold weather and no rain!

 

What kind of snowmaking machines does Mt. Crescent use?

We use three different types of snowmaking machines, two of which are mobile and can be moved around and another that is permanently fixed. The mobile snowmaking machines include TechnoAlpin TR8s and SMI Polecats, which we can move around to different runs and parts of the ski area, depending on the availability of power. We also use snowmaking sticks (they’re really called sticks!) that are placed along Easy Street.

TechnoAlpine TR8s and the SMI PoleCats can make snow when temperatures are slightly warmer, around 25 degrees wet bulb, whereas the snowmaking sticks can only make snow when it's very cold, usually under 15 degrees wet bulb. 

TechnoAlpin snowmaking machine test session in November 2022.
Testing out our new TechnoAlpin snowmaking machines during the first cold weekend of November 2022.

All of the snowmaking machines run off of water pumped from the snowmaking pond, which is now three times larger for more snow and longer snowmaking sessions! They also require compressed air.

Snowmaking pond at Mt. Crescent as it's being filled for the season.
The newly expanded pond at Mt. Crescent Ski Area as it's being filled for the 22-23 season.

 

What is the temperature range for making snow, generally?

Our team generally bases our snowmaking decisions on the wet bulb temperature, which takes into account both temperature and humidity. Wet bulb temperature is always lower than dry bulb temperature (what most of us know as simply the temperature outside), unless the humidity is 100%.

For example, we usually begin looking at making snow at 26 degrees wet bulb, but ideally we’re looking at 24 degrees wet bulb or colder. However, if humidity is low (say, 5%) we can make snow at 30 degrees. 

As a general rule, the lower the temperature and humidity, the better the snow! 

 

What factors impact Mt. Crescent’s ability to make snow?

Snowmaking is dependent on temperature, humidity, and wind speed and direction. As we talked about above, low temperature and humidity is essential, although we can make snow at slightly higher temperatures if the humidity is low.

Wind can also make or break a snowmaking session and gusts over 20 miles an hour can become very problematic and tend to blow snow away. High winds that constantly change direction can also complicate the process as it makes it difficult to place equipment in a location where snow will be able to accumulate.

Snowmaking efficiency begins to decline when wet bulb temperatures rise above 24 degrees, but even at 24 degrees wet bulb, we're not getting a lot out of our machines. When it rises above 26 degrees wet bulb we have to shut down.

The magic number we look for is 15 degrees wet bulb—that's when we really start to run efficiently and see piles build quickly.

 

What makes for a perfect snowmaking day?

Ah, a perfect snowmaking day! Our team gets especially excited when we see temperatures in the single digits, little to no wind, and very low humidity.


How does Mt. Crescent measure wind, humidity, and temperature to determine whether to make snow?

We have several tools we use to make this decision and rely heavily on the weather stations that are installed on the TechnoAlpin snowmaking machines. We also have an on-site weather station. In addition, we pay close attention to data and graphs from the National Weather Service that help us identify snowmaking windows and decide where to set up machines.

 

How many people does it take to make snow?

Once everything is set up and running two to three snowmakers can maintain everything. However, if the weather and wind are changing a lot during the snowmaking session then it requires more people to maintain quality snow and make any necessary adjustments.

 

What time of day do you usually make snow? Is making snow overnight tricky if it gets really cold?

We make snow entirely based on weather. This means we might be able to start machines early in the day, or it might dictate that we start later in the evening. 

Most often we try to make snow overnight due to the colder temperatures. However, while cold temperatures are generally a good thing for snowmaking, extremely cold temperatures can make it significantly more difficult to deal with any problems that might arise. 

 

Hopefully this helps you better understand how the magic happens at Mt. Crescent Ski Area. Now, cross your fingers with us as we hope for great snowmaking weather throughout the season and don’t forget:

Even if there isn’t snow in your backyard, there’s a 100% chance of snow at Mt. Crescent!

Haven't snagged your season pass yet? It's not too late. Get yours today, here.

 

Images of Mt. Crescent visitors and staff having snow much fun.

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