How Mount Snow Has the Best Snowmaking in the East

Mount Snow has made big investments in snowmaking, making it one of the first ski areas to open in the Northeast and last to close.
Posted on January 11, 2023
Fangun Snowmaking on Charlie's Chase

Mount Snow's snowmaking capabilities are particularly impressive, making it one of the best destinations for early season skiing in December in the east. The resort has over 250 fan guns and 2000 snowmaking hydrants, covering 80% of its terrain. Mount Snow's snowmaking team is also committed to producing high-quality snow and meticulously groom the slopes to offer optimal skiing and snowboarding experiences. As a result, even if there is little natural snowfall, Mount Snow can provide reliable and consistent snow conditions, making it an excellent choice for skiers and snowboarders skiing Vermont in December and throughout the ski season.

You may wonder how it is that Vermont’s southernmost ski area, Mount Snow, can be among the first ski areas in the state to open each year and one of the last to close. The secret? Since 2018 Mount Snow has one of the most extensive snowmaking systems in the East, with more than 85 percent of its trails covered by snowmaking and four new trails getting snowmaking coverage this season. Here’s the story on how Mount Snow became one of the top snowmaking resorts with the best snowmaking for early season skiing and riding in the east.

Becoming a Top Snowmaking Resort

In 2017, Mount Snow invested more than $30 million in what it called the West Lake Water Project. That involved literally blasting and digging a lake to create a huge water reservoir. Bulldozers excavated nearly 400,000 cubic yards of dirt over 25 acres to create a reservoir that holds 120 million gallons of water.

That investment provided Mount Snow with six times the amount of stored water that it had before and set it on course to revolutionize its snowmaking and grooming.

At the same time, the resort invested in 100-percent low-energy, high-efficiency fixed snowguns that can convert up to 11,800 gallons per minute of water into snow.

“We now have close to 1,000 low-energy, high-efficiency snow guns,” says Kevin Harrington, Mount Snow’s Senior Manager of Mountain Operations. “These are fixed guns so when we need to make snow, we can simply turn on the faucets, so to speak. We don’t have to move guns and hoses around the mountain.”

Providing the temperatures cooperate, in under 24 days, the ski area can make all the snow it needs for the season. “We usually stop around Martin Luther King Jr. Day because we have a base built up by then,” says Harrington.

The new snowguns are also energy efficient and help contribute to parent company Vail Resort’s Epic Promise to reduce its carbon footprint to zero. Since 2011, Mount Snow has reduced its energy consumption by more than 30 percent.

How Does Snowmaking Work?

“So much of how much snow we can make depends on the weather, temperatures and humidity,” says Harrington.

So how does snowmaking work? To make snow that covers much of Mount Snow’s 600 acres, three pumphouses shoot water up the slopes in a network of pipes. Attached to the pipe are snowguns, either giant fans or nozzles on long wands or lances, that are stationed around the trails. The cold water is mixed with a nucleating material which helps it form ice crystals and then pressurized and forced through an atomizing nozzle. As the mist of compressed air and the crystals come out the nozzle in a mist, the pressure stops lowering the temperature the tiny ice crystals become snowflakes.

However, a number of variables determine the quality of the snow. “You can make snow when it’s above freezing,” says Harrington. “But there has to be low humidity.” Inversely, if the temperatures are below freezing and there’s a higher humidity, the water droplets that usually exit the guns at temperatures of 34 to 44 degrees take longer to form flakes.

Snowmakers look for an ideal “wet bulb” temperature that combine the temperature with the humidity. An ideal “wet bulb” temperature is around 20 degrees. Among Mount Snow’s 900-plus snowguns are the SMI Polecat, which puts out 25 gallons per minute when the temperatures are hovering around freezing or 125 gallons per minute when the mercury drops to 15 degrees or lower.

Another factor is how far the snow has to fall or is blown onto the trail, as well as how well it is groomed so positioning the snowguns correctly takes experience. “We have a great team of both snowmakers and groomers who are working two shifts so that the conditions are always the best they can be,” says Harrington.

Snowmaking’s Evolution

Snowmaking technology has come a long way since the 1940s when Canadian scientists who were studying the effects of rime ice on jet engines discovered that if you sprayed cold enough water into a wind tunnel it could turn to snow.

In 1964, inspired by a fountain he had seen in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Mount Snow founder Walt Schoenknecht decided to put a fountain into Snow Lake, at the ski area’s base. The fountain was left on all winter and as it continued to spout and freeze, spout and freeze, built up what became known as “Fountain Mountain,” a slope big enough that Schoenknecht installed a rope tow and held ski races down it.

Today, there’s no longer a “Fountain Mountain” but Mount Snow does have one of the East’s largest halfpipes. We build out a 500-foot superpipe with walls that range up to 14 feet high,” says Harrington. “I sometimes hear grumbles from parents who think that’s where we are storing all our snow. Truth is, thanks to our snowmaking capacity, we now have plenty of snow to cover our terrain. And this season, The Gulch was the first terrain park in the East to have top-to-bottom coverage.”

In addition to opening terrain earlier, all that snowmaking allows Mount Snow to build up a base that can last well into late spring. Fortunately, ski resorts like Mount Snow have invested in state-of-the-art snowmaking technology to ensure great skiing and snowboarding conditions, even during early season and warmer weather, extending the ski season for skiers and riders in the east.