Lately the Heavenly Facebook page has been full of comments/compliments/questions regarding our snow. To get more sknowledge I caught up with our director of snow surfaces Barrett Burghard.
Barrett knows more about the fluffy white wonderful stuff, natural or man-made, than anyone here at Heavenly. Here’s what I learned:
How big is Heavenly’s snow team?
We have a team of 40 snowmakers using 65 fully auto fan guns, 100 air-water guns, and 22 low temp snow guns.
How do you decide where to make snow on a given day? Is there an art to the placement of the snow guns?
We have a thoroughly researched early-season plan for the best locations to start making snow. We try to stay close to that plan but always have to make changes based on the weather. The mountain management team and I make those calls.
We start each season by opening the TOG (Top of Gondola) area first and then spreading out to Stagecoach and the Cal Lodge.
Where are we currently making snow? How long can we expect before those trails open?
The Stagecoach Lodge area opened today but we actually stopped making snow there last weekend. Snow always has to sit for at least 24-48 hours. This wait time provides the drier, lighter snow that skiers love.
Each unit of natural snowfall is a flake. When we make snow, each unit is shaped more like a droplet. At first each drop is only 20% frozen. The inside 80% is water that needs longer to freeze. If people were to ski on freshly made snow, the droplets could break and may make the surface slushy. We always want to create the best skiing conditions possible, that’s why we wait for droplets to freeze and any other moisture to dissipate.
How different is one snowfall to another?
This last snow was super dry. It was very cold so the two feet looked great but was very light. Skiers would have been sinking into it if we hadn’t groomed and packed it down. In the early season a heavy natural snow base, which we get when it snows during 20-24 degree temps, is preferable to a 5 degree snow like the one we had on Saturday.
What goes into the call of how much grooming we need?
Guest experience is the biggest factor. When we’re making snow in the East Bowl we let people ski on it as we make it. Over there, the auto fan guns are on towers so they’re quieter and the hoses are out of the way.
We can’t let snowmaking interfere with Heavenly’s on-mountain experience. When snow guns and hoses are out, people can hurt themselves. Guest experience comes first.
How would you describe Heavenly’s man-made snow?
High quality: it’s buttery yet dry. The kind of snow we make costs more money but like a really good wine the small differences make a much better product.
What’s the story behind Sochi modeling their snowmaking after Heavenly?
The current technology for fully automatic snowmaking is maybe 10-12 years old but 14-15 years ago we had automatic fan guns at Heavenly.
Our former director of snow surfaces, Jim Larmore, was an engineer and he started testing automating snow machines. We built our own computerized controls and had valves and hydrants programmed to open. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but it got SMI and other companies in the industry to really start exploring automation. We definitely pushed the technology forward.
How has the start of this season been for snowmaking?
It’s been good, busy. Sunday night (12/8) was the most snow we’ve produced in a 24 hours period in the last 25 years.
Check out this week’s snowmaking video and if you see Barrett on the mountain, make sure to stop and thank him for our great snow.