Natural snow doesn’t always arrive in bunches in the Lake Tahoe region. Snowfall totals vary on a yearly basis. But one thing is certain: the consistent snowfall that Tahoe ski resorts were accustomed to for decades can no longer be assumed.
So, because ski resorts are naturally dependent on snow coverage, the importance of man-made snow is far more important than ever before.
Natural snow is obviously the best snow, but when it comes to preparing most ski resorts for an upcoming winter season, snowmaking plays a huge role. In many of the past seasons in Lake Tahoe, many of the ski resorts would not have opened by Thanksgiving without the aid of snowmaking.
In this unusual 2020-21 ski season that will be definitely impacted by coronavirus, it’s unlikely there will be any Tahoe ski resort that opens in October. Mt. Rose, which has been the first Tahoe ski resort to open the past four seasons, has already said it will not be making snow and opening in October like previous years.
“Mt. Rose has not turned on the guns, but the snowmaking system is ready and all the machines are in place,” said Mt. Rose spokesperson Mike Pierce. “So, we are ready but we’ll want some cooler temps to set in before this is possible. Typically, we’ll want below freezing temps with low humidity for a minimum of four hours before we’ll start blowing the fluff.”
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows says it fired up the snow guns Thursday (Oct. 15) to test its snowmaking systems. The first dustings of manmade snow could be seen on the Lake View trail near the top of the Squaw Creek chairlift at Squaw Valley.
Every fall the Squaw-Alpine snowmaking team test all of the lines and compressors that make up its snowmaking systems so they are ready to make snow at full force once the temperatures drop. After this week’s tests, the resort plans to start making snow at every opportunity when the weather allows.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows plans to open Nov. 25, weather and conditions permitting. The Northstar opening is TBA.
HOW SNOWMAKING WORKS
SNOW GUNS: The function of a snow gun is to blow tiny water droplets into the air, let them freeze, and fall to the ground.
There are two primary types of snow guns. The first type combines compressed air and water. The compressed air splits the water into tiny droplets, while also launching it high enough to allow for the droplets to freeze.
The second type of snow gun combines a stream of water with an electric fan. Instead of compressed air, the electric fan blows the water into tiny droplets that freeze and fall to the ground.
WET-BULB TEMPERATURE: The best measure of snowmaking conditions is something called the wet-bulb temperature. This is the combination of the actual air temperature and the amount of moisture in the air. Normal Temperature + Humidity = Wet-Bulb Temperature
Snowmaking is most efficient when the wet-bulb temperature is well below freezing. However, snow can still be made when the temperature is near freezing as long as the air is very dry.
HUMIDITY (key factor): Water droplets freeze more quickly when the air is dry, and this is due to an effect called evaporation cooling.
When the air is not saturated, some water droplets in the air evaporate from a liquid to a gas. This evaporative process requires heat, and this heat is taken from the surrounding air. Thus, the surrounding air loses heat and becomes cooler.