By Joe Stevens
Hello everyone –
Well, it looks like everyone made it through the deep freeze that occurred during part of the holiday period. I guess you can say that the Polar Vortex was a present from Santa Claus for all of the resorts in the region. It was definitely a cold one, but the snowmaking at every resort was incredible.
Then as quick as those temperatures dropped into single digits, we flipped the calendar pages to 2023 and the first thaw of the 2022-2023 season hits everyone in the face. However, the affects of today’s thaws are a bit different than in seasons past.
As I have mentioned many times before, every resort in the region has spent not thousands of dollars on upgrading snowmaking equipment, but millions of dollars. It did not take a brain doctor many years ago to understand that for a ski resort to make money in the southeast, the ability to make “real” manmade snow was going to be essential for the resort to stay in business.
I have seen some posts the last couple of weeks on various industry websites that I follow closely that were not very nice to a couple of resorts for making snow while trails were open for skiers and snowboarders. I came close to responding a couple of times, mentioning the fact that, while it’s an essential operational procedure, the resorts could’ve probably been more aggressive but weren’t and because of that snowmaking, the sliding during the holiday period was one of the best in recent memory. Oh, how I love keyboard warriors. (Yes Sheldon, that’s sarcasm.)
Due to the millions of gallons of water that were turned into manmade snow, the most recent mild temperatures that thinned out some of the slopes in the region, the damage wasn’t as extensive as in years past. I can remember when a mild period like we just went through would’ve have caused some resorts to have to suspend on-slope operations. Not this time around as everyone made it through as now the Martin Luther King weekend approaches.
So you may ask, and even if you weren’t wondering, I thought some of you may want to know what goes on in mountain operations when the snowguns are not operating. I am here to say it is not a true rest period for the hard working snowmakers. Not in the least. There are a bunch of things that go on behind the scenes that skiers and snowboarders never see and, thinking about it, really don’t need to see. All everyone who visits a resort needs to think about is what trails are open and where can I have fun on the snow.
Seriously, during the snowmaking period we just went through, there is a lot of wear and tear on the machines that cover the slopes. Putting it in perspective, think about driving your vehicles across the country and back again in a week’s period. There is a good chance that vehicle is going to need at least an oil change, or have a few other maintenance issues. Well, that’s the same thing for the snowmaking equipment that is operated whenever the weather conditions allow.
This is where the term “warming up in the bullpen” comes into play. While snowmaking temperatures allow for on-mountain operations it’s all hands on deck and every starting pitcher is taking their turn on the mound.
Then when the temperature is cooperating, those pitchers head to the bullpen and stay warm for the next go round but, making sure all of the equipment that was in use during the snowmaking period is ready to go when the temperature drops again.
This is probably one of the most critical time periods of the snowmaking process and that is getting ready for the next time the temperature drops below freezing, which everyone should know by now, is the time when manmade snow can be produced.
We have talked in the past about the important operating times for any resort in the region, of course you have the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, but coming up are two very important periods and that being Martin Luther King and President’s holidays, both very important three-day weekends, when a number of school groups from throughout the region take the opportunity to head to the mountains.
This means that the snowmakers have been coming out of their bullpens whenever there is even a slightest chance of manmade snow being produced. So, a persons weather app might indicate that the temperature is closer to 32 degrees and wondering why the guns are on, but with the new snowmaking technology that is available today, manmade snow can still be produced and that allows additional coverage on existing open trails and the ability to open more terrain, spreading out the anticipated numbers that come during holiday periods.
I have had to educate some friends about those so called off days for snowmakers, as some think they are just sitting around playing cards. Of course, there are times that they just need a break in other to be ready when the time comes to fire the guns up another time.
I also hear from friends that they don’t want to ski with goggles on when they ski or snowboard and the snowguns are a pain in the you know what. I quickly tell them that the only reason they are even able to be enjoying a day on the slopes is the fact that the snow guns are operating, providing a surface for them to slide on. Basically I am telling them to lower the goggles and deal with the fact it is a part of the sport that they like.
Every season is a challenge and this one looks like it is going to be no different, but rest assured, every bullpen is fully staffed and ready to go, when mother nature calls them into action.
That’s it for this week, so thanks for joining me for my weekly ramblings. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be.