Snowmaking: Science gives Mother Nature a boost


Snow Summit Resort manager Wade Reeser says there are two types of machines used to make snow - air-water guns and electric-fan guns.

Both types need water and electricity, but the big difference is air-water guns need compressed air while electric-fan guns do not.

One employee, Chris Maybrier, controls the levels of power and water. Snowmaking requires a lot of both.

"The last 12 hours, we put 5 million gallons of water on the mountain," explained Maybrier. That's enough to fill over 7 1/2 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Big Bear Mountain Resort is lucky enough to have one of the most important ingredients in snow making - water.

"We've got plenty of water that we pull out of Big Bear Lake here. We have as much water as we really need or want," said Reeser.

Water is pumped into holding ponds, where it waits for its journey to the guns. But they can't make snow anytime they want. Conditions have to be just right.

Even when temperatures are above freezing, snow can be made if the air is dry with less than 50 percent relative humidity.

"If it's dry, we can be making snow when it's 40 degrees," explained Reeser.

A quick way to tell is to look at the wet bulb temperature. This measurement combines ambient temperature and relative humidity. Each gun has an onboard weather system that reads the wet bulb, and if it is less than 27 degrees snowmaking is a go.

"You can also control your quality of snow. So it's got one, being the driest snow you can make, and 10, being the wettest snow you can make," described Reeser.

They create a base with wet snow and eventually finish with powder. Reeser says many skiers and snowboarders can't tell apart real versus fake snow - though they like to think they can.

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