Man-made vs. mother nature: The cost and science behind making snow

Squaw Valley - Snow Making Program

Snow-making -- It's a million-dollar industry trying to take on Mother Nature.

The ultimate goal in snow-making is to get area ski resorts open early, but also to add to the snow pack throughout the year.

Over the last six years, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has invested $9 million into snow-making. And it seems to be paying off; in recent years, both Squaw and Alpine received their highest ever snow surface ratings, improved their efficiency, and improved their capacity.

Mark Meyer, the snow making manager at Squaw, has 20 years of experience making snow and has seen those $6 million dollars make major strides:

"Snow-making has changed a lot here at Squaw; we've become more efficient. And that's kind of the goal in snow-making now a days, because power is very expensive, the water that we use, everything costs money and so the more efficient we can be... The faster we can turn the system on and off, the better"

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has invested in every aspect of snowmaking: personnel, snow guns, pipelines, and technology.

That includes high-efficiency guns, improved air compressors, new and newly replaced air and water lines, increased wages, a state-of-the-line command center and automatic air and temperature sensors on each of their 150-plus snow guns.

But how does man made snow stack up to mother nature? Mark explains:

"Snow-making snow is said to be like two-week old natural snow. It's got a very high water content, it's very dense, it lasts longer than natural snow when the sun is beating on it because of the high water content."

The magic number for making snow is a wet bulb temperature of 27 degrees. A wet bulb temperatures differs than a regular temperature because it factors in humidity. The lower the humidity, the colder the wet bulb temperature.

Squaw hit this magic number for the first time this season, on Friday, October 20, and were able to fire up their snow-making machines. Although October is ending warm, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is still shooting for an opening date of November 17, 2017.

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