The Art of Snowmaking

December 1, 2014 | By: Monica Christofferson

With its cold, dry climate, New Mexico is home to some of the best natural snow in America. But when Mother Nature needs a helping hand, skiers and snowboarders throughout the Land of Enchantment benefit from the state’s modern snowmaking systems which provide much of the idyllic trail surfaces they enjoy throughout the day.

Snowmaking dates back to the early 1950s with the invention of the first snow cannon and gained widespread popularity at resorts throughout America in the 1970s. Today, it allows winter sports enthusiasts to hit their favorite slopes earlier and for more months of the year.

The artificial snow not only creates a base for early season skiing, but also provides an excellent foundation that allows natural snowfall to stick sooner. As springtime approaches, the more dense man-made snow is better able to endure through the freeze-thaw cycle the warmer days and cold nights create, extending the season beyond what would normally be possible.

In New Mexico, every ski area has state-of-the-art snowmaking capabilities with highly pressurized snow guns (or fans) that send tiny water droplets high into the air where it freezes and falls as snow. The process is far from point-and-shoot though. Skilled snowmakers carefully manage climate, topographical, and technological details, working around the clock to ensure the best possible production.

Ben Abruzzo, the Mountain Manager at Ski Santa Fe, said snowmakers must continuously monitor conditions and adjust technique to create the best snow possible.

“We are constantly adjusting the direction and flow of our guns to get the best snow possible,” Abruzzo said. “We can cover 50 percent of our mountain with artificial snow and our snowmakers work through the night, each and every night to create the best possible surface.”

At Red River Ski Area, Snowmaking Manager Doug Lane can cover 85% of the trails with man-made snow. An international snowmaking expert who works in New Zealand during the summer (southern hemisphere winter), Lane said New Mexico has ideal conditions for creating artificial snow.

“We’re looking for a wet bulb temperature of 28 degrees and below, which factors in the ambient temperature and the humidity,” Lane said. “The colder and dryer it is, the more snow you can create, which makes the Southwest one of the best places in the world for this.”

After the snow is created, there’s still work to be done as crews use snowcats to create a consistent, groomed surface. Finally, tillers are used to pack down the new snow and craft that perfect corduroy surface every skier and snowboarder loves.

The skilled craftsmen have already been hard at work making snow at your favorite New Mexico ski area. Make plans to come see for yourself how smooth a ride it is.

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