Kelly's Blog: Early Season Strategy

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Million dollar question..."When will Mount Snow open?"

Our opening strategy remains the same since Peak Resorts purchased us in 2007.  We will open as early as possible as long as we are making smart decisions.  Having said that, it is soooo hard to show any degree of intelligence when you are dealing with the weather...but we try.

Luckily, history helps us with some of our decisions and having a plan is a big help too.  Here are some of our early season guidelines.

Top to Bottom:  When we open, we  like to offer top to bottom.   We prefer to stay away from downloading on lifts.

Skiing and riding for all abilities:  We like to offer a novice hill because history tells us that when we don't, we leave out an important segment of our market.

Typical trails:  We strive to open with at least Cascade, Canyon, Launch Pad and a park at Carinthia.  Ideally, we tie the Main Face and Carinthia together with Long John.

Efficient snowmaking:  This is the most important part of our early season plan.  We make most of our early season snow with fan guns.  Typically, early season serves up marginal temperatures with higher humidity.  We know that fan guns are the best on the market in these conditions and cost less to run.  Why is the fan gun the better performer?  To give you the scientific answer, I turned to Brendan, our project manager.   Brendan loves working with our snowmaking team and he's got a chart for everything!

Per Brendan, the most expensive part of snowmaking is compressed air.  Our SMI fan guns use an on-board air compressor to create the same amount of compressed air all the time.  As the temperature decreases, more ‘banks’ of water are turned on which increases the snow output.  The air/water guns use a different ‘internal mix’ technology.  The snow output is regulated by the water pressure on the gun.  As the water pressure is increased, more water moves through the gun, decreasing the air flow and ‘wetting up’ the snow.  At marginal temperatures the air/water guns use over 300 cubic feet per minute (CFM)of air to turn 12 gallons per minute (GPM) of water into snow.  This is compared to the fan guns 21 CFM to turn 25 GPM into snow.  The chart below shows how the Air:Water ratio for the two technologies changes with temperature:

Thanks Brendan.

Firing up:  When we start making snow we will be stockpiling or blowing conservation piles that can withstand warmer temps.  At this time of year the ground is not frozen yet.  This can melt snow from the bottom as well as warm air from the top.  Conservation piles provide insulation for the snow and minimize loss during thaw cycles. We won’t spread anything until we are confident that we have sustainable temps and a chance to get open.

Grooming:  We like to make enough snow that we can groom some of the terrain .  This is important because the majority of our guests prefer groomed terrain.

Timing:  Once we hit mid-October, every eye in the ski industry is on the thermometer.  If we go out and make snow every time it gets cold, with no attention on the long range forecast, we run the risk of watching the snow melt and flushing money down the drain. That risk is weighed every time we see favorable temperatures.  Typically, cold temps in October are just a tease and are followed by warm temps like last week (and warm rains - UGH!)  Once we hit November, we are more likely to fire up the guns because history tells us that cold temps are more reliable.

One more FAQ.  "Why is Killington open but Mount Snow is not?"  Killington's strategy is to open early and close late, living up to their Beast of the East reputation.  One of the most obvious reasons that Killington can pull this off and we can't is elevation.  Killington's summit is 4241' and Mount Snow's is 3600'.  Right now Killington is open for laps up top with a lift that gives them that kind of access.  I applaud Killington but you should know up front that is Killington's strategy, not Mount Snow's.

So when will we open?  If you look back at our history, we normally open somewhere between Nov 20-30.  Sometimes earlier and sometimes later.  It looks likes like temps will drop Thursday night and we hope to start making snow, at least up top.  Friday looks good too.  After that, it looks pretty marginal.  Hopefully, that will improve as we get closer.

Once we start making snow, keep in mind that sometimes it feels cold enough to make snow but we are unable to because it is too humid.  At this time of year, it takes most of the night to hit appropriate snowmaking temperatures, meaning that we may not fire up until 3 am.  Be patient, we’ll get there.

Will we open the Discovery Center Launch Pad hill with a terrain park?   “YES!”  But getting temps in the base area can be tough this time of year, so again, be patient.

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