If You Make It, They Will Come: A Tale of Snowmaking in Vermont
By Sarah Wojcik
You’ve planned the most amazing Vermont winter vacation. Visions of snow-capped mountains and cozy villages fill your imagination. You and your friends or family have packed up the car with all your warmest gear and are ready for an epic winter getaway. You can’t wait to enter a mountain world where snow steadily falls from the skies and everything is covered in pure white. Rosy cheeks, thrilling runs and warm beverages by the fire await.
Before hitting the road, you check the snow report and weather forecast at your destination and your heart skips a beat. Meteorologists are calling for a relatively dry week. Mother Nature is not cooperating. Didn’t she get the memo you were coming? Where is the 6-12 inches of powder in the forecast?
Fear not. You’re headed to Vermont, and we have things covered – literally. Mother Nature sends all ski destinations for a loop sometimes with sparse snowfall, but Vermont is always ready to come to the rescue. With the ability to cover 80% of Vermont’s ski and snowboard terrain with state of the art snowmaking, you can’t go wrong. Pat yourself on the back, because you’ve just planned a trip to the state with the best snowmaking in the world. Prepare to be impressed.
Historically, Vermont has always been at the forefront of ski and snowboard innovations and snowmaking successes. Since the 1960’s to today, it’s had the highest percentage of terrain covering, snowmaking ability of any ski destination in the world. It’s also been at the forefront of expansions and improvements since the late 1950’s. Killington’s founder Pres Smith had a vision from day one to have the first ski area in the United States to open and the last to close, a big goal in 1958 and something Vermont’s largest resort still strives to achieve every season. He installed snowmaking at the mountain in 1963 and promoted “guaranteed snow” for the 1963-64 season. Just a few years later in 1966, Fred Pabst of Bromley Mountain installed the “world’s largest snowmaking” plant at the cost of three quarters of a million dollars. "Nobody thought you could cover a whole damn mountain with snowmaking,” he’s colorfully quoted.
Today, the majority of Vermont resorts have the ability to cover nearly the “whole damn mountain” with snowmaking and technology has taken quality, quantity and even energy savings to new heights. Just prior to the 2014-15 season, Vermont resorts expanded the efficiency, quality and coverage of their snowmaking systems as part of a nearly $15 million upgrade in partnership with Efficiency Vermont. The aptly named, Great Snow Gun Roundup, supported the purchase of more than 2,700 new low energy snow guns, and in return the resorts donated over 1,800 older model snow guns to scrap. An industry wide upgrade in snowmaking efficiency of this magnitude had never been seen before the Great Snow Gun Roundup, and the estimated annual energy savings from this swap provide enough electricity to supply approximately 1,500 Vermont homes for one full year, and enough diesel to heat 340 Vermont homes annually. In technical terms the estimated annual energy savings from this swap is 10,500 MWh and 31,000 MMBtu.
On top of the efficiency snowmaking upgrade of 2014, Vermont resorts have invested tens of millions of dollars in snowmaking expansion and advancements over the past five years. Stowe alone devoted $9.8 million dollars to improving their snowmaking fleet over 3 consecutive years, resulting in increased coverage and great conditions this past season despite very low natural snowfall. With the addition of snowmaking access to just two more trails last season, Okemo Mountain’s snowmaking coverage increased to 98%. Mount Snow Resort is currently constructing a new 120-million-gallon snowmaking pond which increases water storage for snowmaking by six times. Add new pipelines and advanced monitoring technology to the improvement list and know Vermont is dedicated to providing the highest quality product from north to south.
So what does all this really mean for skiers and riders? Well, the new guns not only save tons of energy for resorts, which allows them to rely on less power and output lower emissions, but they also create better quality snow surfaces and a better experience. Newer guns are much quieter and produce lighter snow that for most folks is impossible to differentiate from Mother Nature’s goods. They also enable resorts to blow snow at higher temperatures, extending the Vermont ski and snowboard season front and back. That also means more optimal snowmaking windows throughout the season and faster recovery from poor weather. Simply put – better snow, more of the time for winter revelers everywhere.
So now we know that Vermont is insured during a low snow year by the world’s most epic snowmaking system, but that doesn’t mean skiers and riders should stop expecting piles of pow from Ma Nature to sweeten the deal. We revel in natural snowfall as well in the Green Mountain State, and boast some of the best natural conditions in the country, certainly in the East. In fact, as we tallied totals at the end of the 2013-14 ski season, Vermont took the lead over much larger and higher mountains out west. Our own Jay Peak boasted 373 inches of the fresh stuff that season, the most in the lower 48 of the United States. On average, Vermont resorts receive about 200 inches of fresh snow yearly; plenty to cover both mountains and villages, creating that cozy, beautiful, bucolic scene you imagine in your head as you plan another winter vacation to Vermont.
To read more articles from the 2017 Ski Vermont magazine, or request a copy, head here.