By John Murphy
Ski resorts in the Northeast require consistent temperatures below freezing to more easily create artificial snow – something that is difficult to do when the region experiences unseasonably high temperatures at the start of winter.
But one ski resort in Pennsylvania has become the exception.
Spring Mountain Adventures, located about 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, recently ushered in a new era in snowmaking equipment.
For 22 years, the resort relied on snow-making systems that required cold temperatures to make snow. Because of that, the resort officials were left wondering at the start of each winter when they would be able to open for the season.
“Sometimes you’re open on December 10 or 15. Sometimes you’re not open till January 2, 3 or 5, and you miss that Christmas Week window,” John Brown, manager at Spring Mountain Adventures, told AccuWeather in an interview.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the resort suffered from slow snow seasons that left them wondering what could be done to still attract customers.
“You can implement like a summer business, but skiing is our primary income generator,” Brown said.
The family began researching methods to keep their business running even when the weather was uncertain. Their research led them to the Canadian company Latitude 90, which specializes in snowmaking equipment that can run in higher temperatures.
The all-weather snowmaking technology is an enclosed independent system that can create snow from 4 degrees Fahrenheit below zero to 77 degrees, according to the company website. The device can withstand ambient temperature, winds and humidity.
In April, the Spring Mountain team flew out to a ski resort in North Carolina to see the machine in action, and they weren’t disappointed.
“I think it’s just an exciting new tool to help transition with climate change for seasonal businesses like us,” Brown said.
While the machine isn’t able to provide the entire mountain with snow, it is enough to help smaller resorts like Spring Mountain maintain business. Even if the weather is too warm, the resort can still open beginner lifts and start servicing season pass holders and offering lessons.
Brown told AccuWeather that because Spring Mountain Adventures is a small resort perfect for beginners, his resort is also the perfect place for a machine like Latitude 90 to operate.
While larger mountain resorts such as Blue Mountain in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, could use the machine for the base area, smaller resorts like Spring Mountain Adventures get enough snow from the machine that it can open their chairlifts that service terrain about 400-500 feet long.
“You try and do that with a lift that’s 2,000 feet long. You’ll need like 20 of these boxes [snow-making machines],” Brown said.
The magic happens inside an old shipping container, which is converted into the snow machine from Latitude 90. The machine is able to operate by only relying on feeding power and water and is able to continue running without relying on any exterior conditions because all the ice and snow are made inside before being sent out.
Inside the container, two big refrigeration barrels take in the water and freeze it as it goes down a drum. The ice is then passed through a blade which chops it and creates snow. The blades are able to be set to two different speeds, which set the fineness of the snow it outputs.
The device doesn’t just specialize in snow. Brown said, it is also loaded with safety features and monitors which allow ski resort operators to log in from anywhere and see how the machine is performing. Cameras inside and out of the barrel also help the team ensure proper ice and snow production at all times.
“We don’t have to have anyone there. It just runs itself. It’s very user-friendly,” Brown said.
The Spring Mountain staff was able to figure out the machine and get it operational in only a matter of days. The resort officially began making snow on Nov. 3 and has now been running the machine for nearly four weeks.
The resort started with a traditional fan gun snow-making system when it was bought in 2000. This required drawing water from a nearby source and using it to fill a vault through a piping network. The resort also uses fan guns, which is a standalone unit that compresses air and water directly into the gun through a hydrant. A barrel then sends the mixture together under pressure to atomize the water into fine particles that fall as snow.
Newer guns at the resort required fewer nozzles and were more efficient, but temperature and humidity remain a factor for this type of setup.
“You can run the snow guns at 30-28 (degrees), in that marginal temperatures for snowmaking,” Brown said.
On Nov. 2, temperatures at Spring Mountain Adventures were above 70 degrees, meaning making snow the old-fashioned way would be impossible. But installing the new technology from Latitude 90 enabled the resort to create snow during the unseasonably warm day.
“It doesn’t care about outside. It doesn’t matter how hot it is outside; it can still do its job,” Brown said.
As of December 2022, there are six of these snow machines in operation around the United States. Spring Mountain Adventures was the first in the northeast to operate the device. The machine is also in use along the West Coast in California. About 10 units are also being used at ski areas in Japan.
“When your sole business is so weather-dependent like a ski area, it’s almost a no-brainer. There’s [a] big investment, but what’s it worth to get your business up and running?” Brown said.
The new equipment from Latitude 90 meant the resort no longer had to guess about its potential opening days.
“This is a guarantee for us that we can make snow whenever we want and start up whenever we want,” Brown said.
Spring Mountain Adventures became the first and only place in the Northeast to install the technology. Eight of the devices are expected to be up and running in the United States by the end of 2022, according to Fox 17 in Michigan.
“We for sure can guarantee an opening date without any question…We’re looking forward to opening up on time and, or early,” Brown said.
Produced in association with AccuWeather.
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