Snowmakers: Mad Scientist, or Just Plain Mad?

Snowmaking crews are sitting on ready to begin cranking out the snow as soon as Mother Nature cooperates with some colder temps. Typically by now, we’d have already seen a light snowfall or two, and experienced some cold nights that would have had the resorts clamoring to open. Since that’s not the case quite yet this season we thought we’d pay homage to the most important "ingredient" to Southern snow fun. The Snowmaker. Not the machine…the men and women behind the machines.

All the towers and piping in the world don’t mean a thing without someone to operate them. That’s where snowmakers come in. They are part electrician, part plumber, part computer operator, part engineer, part equipment operator, part…well, you get the picture.

Snowmaking requires a broad base of skills, all of which must be exhibited under tough conditions. At the best of times, it’s dark, wet, cold and loud work…and it’s work that the people that do it…get very little recognition for.

The resorts across the Southeast have highly experienced and knowledgeable snowmakers and they push the art of snowmaking to its limits, working with some of the newest and best technology in the industry. The result? Without them and the technology that they use, we’d see just a few DAYS of skiing and riding fun per season.

Snowmaking makes "CENTS" – Making snow is not cheap. When you weigh the costs against the benefits, however, it becomes obvious that snowmaking makes good financial sense for all of our resorts. One of the questions and statements that we receive most often relates to why one resort will make snow and another within just a few miles won’t. Another one is "why does one resort open so late in the season and close much earlier than another just up the road?" All good questions…but it relates to simple economics. The resorts don’t use the same power provider and each has special arrangements which warrant strong consideration when they think about cranking up the guns. That is another reason why the industry is tirelessly searching for better, faster and more economical ways to make more snow.

While the mountains of North Carolina and the Southeast’s resorts get a fair share of natural snow…there would be no consistent skiing without the manmade kind.

That is another question that we get a lot. "Is the manmade snow REALLY SNOW or foam…or what?" Don’t laugh you so-called experts! You had to learn at one point as well. Machine made snow is actually REAL snow…only on steriods! Giant towers, fan guns and others like them shoot tiny molecules of moisture into the cold air and when it hits the ground it IS snow-like substance. Not the miracle kind that God sends…but more of a crystalized version.

Machine made snow is better suited than natural snow in combating sublimation, radiant heat and general skier traffic “wear and tear” from repeat use. Once the snow on the hill loses its crystalline structure it becomes spherical and looses its ability to lock together like building blocks. Subsequently, adding machine made snow to the ski surface re-initiates the crystalline structure virtually adding life back into the snow.

Timing is Everything – Two of the most common questions received by snowmakers and other resort staff are:

1. Why are you making snow? and
2. Why aren’t you making snow?

Although every effort is made to make snow at night when possible, snowmakers still operate at the mercy of the elements. There may be times when prime skiing hours provide the only conditions suitable for creating new base, patching bare spots, and stockpiling snow. At other times, when the base seems thin, it may be too warm, humid, or windy to make snow. Trust your snowmakers to know when the optimum time to make snow is, and to create the best possible snow experience for you.

Snowmaking Lingo 101 – Tip ONE – When referring to snowmaking crews and snowguns, etc…don’t calling it BLOWING SNOW. They don’t BLOW SNOW…they make snow.

Think COLD

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of, and Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.