Skiway eyes options for more snowmaking water
Sunday River Ski Resort has a battle plan for a warming climate: make snow – lots of it – when the temperatures cooperate.
The resort has already improved its snowmaking efficiency this year with the addition of 300 new snow guns that convert more water to snow while using less electricity. More guns will likely be added in coming years as part of a five-year improvement plan.
But there’s another key component to winning the winter.
“As it gets warmer, and as the cold nights and cold windows get shorter and smaller, we need to be able to pump more water during those times,” said Brent Larson, vice president of mountain operations. “That’s going to be the key to our future.”
Larson, Energy Manager Bill Brown and Director of Communications Darcy Morse talked to the Citizen recently about the resort’s snowmaking strategy for the future.
Morse said a consultant hired this summer evaluated the existing infrastructure to determine how to best improve the mountain’s ability to pump water.
She said there are two options: increase the size of the pipe that carries water from the snowmaking pond near the Sunday River, or build a new pond in the Jordan Bowl area of the resort.
Currently, she said, “We’re pumping water from Barker Mountain up and over and up and over (to Aurora and Jordan Bowl), but the line is full.”
It’s full at a capacity of 8,000 gallons a minute. In addition, the capacity of the booster pump that pumps water to the Jordan area is limited to 3,200 gallons per minute.
A new pond would allow the resort to convert 8,000 gallons per minute of water to snow on the Barker/Southridge side of the mountain, and run Jordan and Aurora at whatever rate they decide to build to, Brown said.
If they decide a new snowmaking pond is the best option, it would likely be seven to 10 acres in size.
The pond would be filled with water pumped up from the Barker area when the weather is too warm for snowmaking.
Then, when it’s cold, “We’d pump water and make snow for Aurora and Jordan Bowl, and make it at Barker,” said Larson. “When it’s warmer, we shut the system down and refill the pond, from the river, through the Barker pumphouse.”
In the fight against climate change, said Brown, “there’s a huge relationship between quantity and quality. There’s not much you can do if a rainstorm comes through this time of year, but if you’ve got enough quantity out there, the groomers can repair it and we keep moving forward.”
The new snow guns have had a significant effect on the early weeks of the ski season this year, Larson said. “There’s more terrain, and more snow on that terrain, than there would be if we didn’t have this system.”
And it comes at a cheaper price. “We’re not only pumping all our water, we’re not running all our air compressors,” he said.
“We use significantly less compressed air,” said Brown. “We used to use two times the electricity to compress air as we used to pump water. Now it’s one-to-one, and when it gets cold, it’s less than that. In 1995, with the temperature in the low 20s, we were able to pump 4,000 gallons a minute with 54,000 cubic feet of compressed air. Now we can pump 8,000 gallons a minute, using 36,000 cubic feet of air. We’ve doubled our water and cut the air usage by one-third.”
The new technology utilizes variable flow guns. Snowmakers can cut down on the compressed air used in the guns even as they are running, if the temperature drops.
The newer guns are on the trails that open the earliest, so there’s a big improvement in efficiency in the marginal snowmaking temperatures in November and December.
Marginal temperatures are 20 to 28 degrees, Brown said. Ideal snowmaking temperatures are 5 to 15 degrees.
Below 5, he said, the problem is freezeups – for both the equipment and the human snowmakers.
Morse said that while other ski areas are also adding the more efficient snow guns, “I think we’re still ahead. We’re pretty aggressive about when we choose to make snow, and for how long. Most areas can’t pay for pumping out as much as we do, and they can’t make it when we do.”
(Note: The writer is married to Sunday River engineer Joe Aloisio.)