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Why no smowmaking?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quick question, I have reservations for the middle of January at Wintergreen in Virginia. I was a little upset to see that last week when there was that blast of cold air and there temps. were in the 20's and 30's they made no snow. Why wouldn't they have done that at least to cool the ground off and get it ready for the next cold blast. I just don't want to pay all that money for 5 slopes being open, and no going out west isn't a option this year. Is there snowmaking that good that they can wait or is it that they just don't care?

post #2 of 11
It costs a LOT of money to blow snow. If they think it's just going to melt immediately, then there isn't much point. Also, opening a ski area requires having a bunch of seasonal help on hand (snow-making crew, instructors, patrollers, groomer drivers, service staff, etc.). If those people aren't ready to report to work, then there isn't much point to turning the snow guns on. You're also in the south, where I'm guessing most people don't think about skiing until you're much closer to XMAS.

Wintergreen is a fairly small area -- it's not like they have tons of terrain to cover. i.e., if they get an extended cold spell, I'm sure they can get terrain open fairly quickly. There's a bunch of areas in New England -- where I'm certain it's been much colder then Virginia has been the past couple days -- that have yet to turn a snow gun on either.
post #3 of 11
One additional element that wasn't mentioned - the terrain in Virginia is not generally as rocky or severe as out west. I was talking with Horst at Bryce, and he said that with 2-3 cold nights, he can generally get enough coverage to open. Admittedly, Bryce is smaller than Wintergreen, but I'm guessing the same rules apply. Because they're covering grassy hills, and not rocky mountains, they probably don't need 18-24 inches to be reasonably skiable. If Bryce can be up and running in 2-3 nights, I'm sure Wintergreen can do it in less than 2 weeks.

post #4 of 11
Electric bills are paid based on peak usages. It's very costly to run snowmaking just for a few days during a billing cycle.

In fact, a lot of bigger snowmaking operations have a person on staff who dedicates a lot of time to figuring out electrical demand and then scheduling snowmaking operations around minimizing peak usages. Taking the next step, lift electrical usage is then calculated to match it. A lot of times resorts want to ramp up usage, so lifts will be shutdown to augment snowmaking.

Or, it could be that they just haven't hired their staff yet.
post #5 of 11
one more thing, snow insulates really well. it won't 'cool the ground' it will insulate the ground, making snowmaking harder not easier.
post #6 of 11
They will be fully open by mid January. Enjoy!
post #7 of 11
Originally Posted by Whiteroom View Post
one more thing, snow insulates really well. it won't 'cool the ground' it will insulate the ground, making snowmaking harder not easier.
Even worse, it means the snow melts earlier in the spring too. The best conditions are to make snow on ground that's already frozen.
post #8 of 11
Cataloochee and Sugar grabbed some headlines with recent openings. Problem is that these thinly covered few slopes can easily be wiped out by a highly likely early season warm spell. Most ski areas don't want to bother with that expense/effort until more consistent ski weather is here for real - Thanksgiving or later. Then they can build on what they cover as the ski-mindset hits the public.
Wintergreen hires seasonal help, often foreign, and they probably aren't in place yet.
Barring catastrophic global meltdown, you should be fine in mid Jan. Wintergreen can cover tons of terrain in a couple cold days. They have an amazing snowmaking system: http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=887
Interestingly, Wintergreen sits on the top 1000 feet of a 4000 foot mtn in a generally mild central Virginia climate. If they wanted to really mess with mother nature they could run trails all the way down the mtn and probably get 2500 feet of vertical.
post #9 of 11
water supply issue might be an issue too......
post #10 of 11
Their target open date is Nov 24 (weather permitting), so they would not start making snow any earlier than Nov 19-20 (that is exactly how they did it last year, BTW). Wintergreen has one of the most advanced snowmaking systems in the country, with a huge capacity. They only need 2-3 days of snowmaking to open a trail.

The thing is, there will be a warmup next week heading into Thanksgiving. I don't see much snowmaking weather over the next few days. I have a feeling they will have to push back their opening date by a week. Not unheard of for the mid-Atlantic. Had they made snow last week when it was cold, it would have deteriorated a lot and might not even be around after this coming week's warmup. Seems like a no brainer to not waste power and water in that case. They know a lot more about the business than we do.

In 2005, we had a cold early season and Wintergreen was 100% open by Christmas, with some of the best snow I ever remember. Then Jan 2006 was very warm and they lost almost all their snow except for a few ribbons on Eagle's Swoop and Dobie. They started from scratch and got back to 100% again in February. And that brings me to my main point -- you never know what the snow will be like in January, and whether they make snow in November or not is sort of a minor issue. Rest assured, they care deeply about skiing and they have a killer snowmaking system. Regardless of what happens with the weather, the skiing in January will be as good as they can possibly make it.
post #11 of 11
As others have said, if the ground's not frozen, there's really no point. Consider the thermal mass of earth vs. that of 6 inches of snow - easy to see that it's not going to stick around very long.

In addition to that, the economics of snowmaking are such that it gets much cheaper the colder it gets. So if you're only a few degrees below zero (°C, ie ~20s in °F), you're spending a lot more money to get a lot less coverage, and at a time when there's a high likelihood that it's going to melt in a few days anyway, it quickly becomes apparent why it doesn't make sense, no matter how many people you can draw to the hill for a day or two.
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