Pats Peak Snowmaking
PATS PEAK POWDER POWER
QUESTION: Who has one of the state of NH’s most powerful snowmaking system per acre?
ANSWER: Pats Peak!
That’s right. Pats Peak Ski Area has one of the largest snowmaking system per developed acre in the state of New Hampshire. Since the start, Pats Peak has been heavily committed to snowmaking. It has been this commitment that has kept us in the forefront of snowmaking and grooming technology for over 50 years.
Consistently — PATS PEAK is one the first ski areas in NH (and sometimes New England) to achieve 100% of our terrain being open. Each year we continue to reinvest in technology, equipment, and manpower, this keeps us on the cutting edge of snowmaking.
Our snowmaking system covers 100 percent of the developed terrain. It uses more than 450 hydrants, 370 snowguns, 80 SMI Polecats, over 18 miles of snowmaking pipes, and can allow up to 90 snow guns operating at once! At prime temperature levels thousands of gallons of water per minute can be converted into snow. Three to five feet of snow can be made on 100% of the developed terrain each season. State-of-the-art weather stations are strategically placed around the mountain to keep the up-to-the-minute humidity, temperature, and wind speed information coming into the command center for optimal snowmaking.
Our snowmaking system was installed in the late 1960’s and has under gone a huge transformation in recent years. Pats Peak has been working with Sno-Matic Engineering, the industry’s leading snowmaking design firm, for the many years to modernize our snowmaking system with the latest techonlogy in the industry.
Snowmaking improves conditions dramatically for skiers and riders. It is essential to quality skiing in Southern New Hampshire. Snowmaking helps to ensure opening in December (and sometimes the end of November) and continuing operations through the end of March in a region those only averages less than 100 inches of natural snowfall per season.
Snowmaking, in principle, is relatively simple:
Water is pulled from a water source, pumped onto the mountain through miles of pipelines that are in the woods or underground paralleling our ski runs.
Machines compress air and follows, in a separate pipe, the same route the water flows. Air and water hydrants are attached and placed along the edges of the runs that allow the snowmaker access to the water and air, under high pressure. The snowmaker in turns uses separate hoses to feed the air and water into a slope side snowgun or fangun. The guns and fans atomize the water into a fine spray. If the outside air is cold and dry enough, the small water particles freeze into snow before they land on the slopes.
The colder and drier the air, the more water can be added to the mixture at each gun and then converted into snow. Snow quality – wet or dry – is controlled by increasing or decreasing water volume. In cold, dry conditions several feet of snow can be made under each gun, and they have to be moved often to spread the snow evenly. Under ideal conditions (28 degrees and lower and low humidity), Pats Peak with pumps going full bore could fill the typical outdoor swimming pool in about 3 minutes!
While the basic principle is simple. Engineering factors must be balanced against each other.
The list is long:
What areas should be covered?
What are the climate conditions?
What are the snowfall, hill contour, exposure, and solar loss factors?
How many skiers and snowboarders are expected to use the trail system?
Which type of snow machines to use?
At what capacity?
At what initial costs, operating costs and maintenance costs?
There are three different styles of snowmaking guns that PATS PEAK uses:
The air/water guns are mobile ground guns. They are small and can be carried by hand to areas that are hard to reach (i.e. Hurricane run out is too narrow for tower guns). They are conventional air water guns where two hoses connect to the piping network and bring together a stream of high-pressure water and a stream of high-pressure air – internally – in a mixing chamber. The water is atomized by the air stream and is blasted into the atmosphere using the energy of both the compressed air and pressurized water to propel snow out of the gun.
They use much less water then the HKDs, thus the reason they make less snow. Mobile guns are loud due to the fact that they use about 5 times the amount of air. The high volume of air causes the water particles to freeze faster and increases the drop time thus creating beautiful little piles of snow. These mobile guns can make snow at warmer temperatures, about 26 degrees and above. They require constant adjustments to the water to change the air/water ratio to make the perfect snow. As temps/humidity rise and fall, so will the ratio adjustments to the water. Unlike tower guns that require no adjustments, you must baby-sit these small guns all night long. At warmer temperatures these are the preferred guns as they make a higher quality snow. They do however require a lot more horsepower to operate Air compressors are rated in CFM, which are Cubic Feet per Minute. A general rule of thumb is that 1HP = 4 CFM. If an air water gun is using 400 CFM of air then it’s also using 100 HP worth of air compressors to make snow.
HKD Tower Gun:
Stick or Tower Guns: These fixed guns are tall tower guns or HKDs guns. This method uses a long aluminum neck where two hoses connect to the piping network and bring together at the gun a stream of high pressure water and a stream of high pressure air – externally – outside of the snow gun. .
The water is atomized by the air stream and is blasted into the atmosphere using the energy of both the compressed air and pressurized water to propel it out of the gun. The towers or HKDs are spaced approximately 85 feet apart. HKDs can make massive amounts of snow in just one night. They can be turned on at 26 degrees with the right conditions such as humidity. The ideal temperature for these guns to run is between 10 and 15 degrees with little or no wind and low humidity. With the right conditions, you can make a pile of snow 18 feet high in just one night. This type of gun uses approximately 25 HP worth of air compressors or 100 CFM. They are more energy efficient then air/water guns but can only make snow when it is colder.
A third way to make snow is with “fan” guns. Fan guns are great for different reason. It is basically a HUGE house fan that blows the water particles into the air, which gives them enough lift to fall slowly to the ground and freeze on the way making snow. These guns can also make snow at warmer temperatures, the colder it gets, the more water they use. On a very cold night 5 to 10 degrees these fan guns can make MASSIVE amounts of snow. With this pleasure comes a price though, they are very expensive and they are very fixed, meaning wherever we put them, they stay.
The “fan” gun consists of a large electric motor (15-25 HP) which drives a fan pushing an air stream in a large metal tube about 3 feet long and 2 feet in diameter. Small water particles are fed into the air stream by nozzles around the outlet rim of the tube. The air stream carries them out 50 to 150 feet onto the trail, which freeze into snow particles before they land. A disadvantage of these guns is that they are hard to move around and cost.
The ski area has placed many of its snowmaking guns on fixed towers to lift them a few feet off the ground. This will give the water particles more “hang time” in the air to freeze, thereby producing more snow by allowing more water to be added to the air-water mixture.
Aside from the type of gun a ski area uses there are other variables that also come into play when making snow. In order of importance they are: Weather, Water, Air, Computers, Power, and last Money.
Dry air and low humidity is most suitable for snowmaking and we use something that is called a “Wet Bulb temperature Chart”.
The combination of humidity and temperature is called “Wet Bulb”. It allows, through evaporative cooling, more water to be converted into snow than does moist air of the same temperature. Believe it or not, sometimes a resort can make better snow at 28 degrees and low humidity then at 21 degrees and high humidity.
In fact we have made snow as high as 38 degrees before although to be completely honest you are not making too much snow then and it really isn’t worth the cost.
It sounds impressive when a ski area can claim to cover 100 percent of its terrain with snowmaking. But far more relevant to skiers is the amount of snow a ski area can make at one time; this is the only true measure of how fast an area can open new terrain, or refresh surfaces during the course of the season. Since water is the raw material from which snow is made, water supply is the most critical determinant in how much snow a ski area can make.
Pats Peak has worked with local and state agencies toward the perfect win-win scenario for both industry and environment. While protecting the natural ecosystem we now have access to water which will allow us to make snow at colder temperatures which, in turns, means we run less during times of warmer weather. This means greater energy savings, which is good for both the company and the environment. Two mountain reservoirs add to our capacity to make snow during times of peak snowmaking production.
Pats Peak has a 5,000,000-gallon snowmaking reservoir.
In addition to water, the other factor, which determines overall system capacity, is air.
Air is measured in volume, or cubic feet per minute or CFM and pressure. Pats Peak use to operate the world’s largest reciprocating air compressor used for snowmaking and we have the most compressed air in the state per acre…what does that mean to you? It means we are pumping out a huge amount of snow when the temperatures are less than ideal. Compressed air also lets us control the process and insure consistent snow texture from the top to the bottom of each trail.
Like anything in life, the process of making snow is like trying to figure a Rubik’s cube. There are so many variables to contend with that no one piece of equipment or style of snowmaking is the “only” way to make snow. We liken it to fighting a battle. The battle being to convert brown earth or substandard ski conditions into wonderful snow. We have our heavy armor (fan guns), special ops (small ground guns), and our standing armies (towers) and much more. The same trail and location throughout the season may see 4 different styles of snowmaking depending on weather, desired snow, etc.
Some ski areas have only enough guns to match their maximum water and air capacity. Upon completing the snow on one trail, crews must “strip” the trail and move all of the guns and hoses to the next trail – a rather long process. Pats Peak boasts over 300+ state-of -the-art snowguns. Most are mounted on towers for easier operation and to allow more “air time” for falling snow to freeze. This gives us the ability to bounce back after a warm spell or rain and resurface virtually every trail overnight. This equipment is spread out along 15 miles of snowmaking pipes that cover 100% of our terrain. Hydrant spacing is also a factor. Many resorts space hydrants up to 200 feet apart – meaning that each gun must cover a much larger area of the trail. Pats Peak utilizes an average hydrant spacing of 80 feet. Wide spacing also tends to produce large “whales” of snow that must then be pushed around by groomers. This packs the new snow down and doesn’t allow water a chance to seep out – resulting in hard, even icy snow. By spreading snow evenly as it’s made, Pats Peak can generally avoid grooming new snow for at least 24 hours, allowing the snow to “cure” or dry which means greater powder for you to rip it up on.
It’s a complex web of machinery, equipment and manpower to make this whole “machine” run. Pats Peak has programmable logic controllers, pressure transmitters, computerized weather stations, and lots of other automation that all feed information on a minute by minute basis into our snowmaking headquarters. In fact we even utilize aspects of the Internet to help us make snow! Now that is cutting edge!
In 2006, Pats Peak solidifed its grip on the best steep/bump skiing in Southern New Hampshire. The Hurricane trail became home to the only fully automatic SMI fan guns in all of New England. Snowmaking pipelines are charged automatically and guns turn on and off as temps permit. Blizzards can be produced almost every night to keep the best bump run in Southern New Hampshire in great shape all season long.
In 2010, Pats Peak installed their most advanced automated snowgun technology on the Twister Trail. The Peak was the first resort in North America to operate a new HKD Auto-Hydrant, which is coupled to a patented SV-10 Tower Snowgun from HKD Snowmakers, a leader in the snowmaking industry. This technology uses state of the art software to control the snowguns allowing them react instantly to weather changes that occur in New England. In addition to providing a more reliable surface for the skiers, these automated snowguns are among the most energy efficient snowmakers on the market. The fully automatic Twister trail allows the trail to be dusted nightly with fresh snow.
The electric power needed for the air compressors, water pumps, and mountain lights at Pats Peak is enormous, requiring approximately 4 megawatts under peak load.
Back in the old days Pats Peak had to call up the local power company when were getting ready to make snow, thankfully, because of infrastructure upgrades we do not need to do that anymore.
The beauty of this is we work very aggressively with power company to use this energy when the rest of the state is fast asleep.
Snowmaking equipment is incredibly expensive to build and operate. Pats Peak has more than $3,000,000 just in equipment costs for its snowmaking system.
Additionally, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to operate. Everything depends upon your snow system.
A properly designed snowmaking system will run about 10-20% of a ski center’s total operating expenses. At Pats Peak our snowmaking system costs over $1,000 per hour just to operate.
Future of Snowmaking:
The name of the game is SNOW! Plenty of SNOW and enough SNOW in the right places! At the right time!
To succeed a ski area must deal successfully with nature. Snowmaking balances out Momma Natures dramatic swings in moods. Machine-made snow can give ski area an earlier start, a longer season, and the best guarantee of continuous operation. It is the only sure way to have a profitable, thriving area of winter activity.
Pats Peak relies heavily on its huge snowmaking system. We make snow whenever we can from early November through early March, even if it’s a good year for natural snow, so as to ensure the best possible conditions all season long, which usually starts in mid December through the end of March.
Aggressive, large-scale snowmaking allows us to offer good conditions early in the season, rapidly opening new runs and lifts such that by the Christmas holiday period we usually have most of the mountain open with a good solid base and few or no bare spots.
Every summer the committed ownership of Pats Peak reinvests large amounts of time and money into improving what was already one of the largest snowmaking systems in the state. Each year we purchase more pumps, compressors, tower guns, and fan guns. Pats Peak was one of the firsts in the state to make snow and has NEVER rested on its laurels regarding this important process. We are always on the leading edge to make our system the best in the state.
If you have some questions about making snow just e-mail the snow guru at Pats Peak: [email protected].
Some Pats Peak Snowmaking Facts (and Trivia):
Snowmaking pipe: 18+ miles.
Water capacity: 30+ gallons per minute per acre.
Air Capacity: 14,000+ cfm (counting all fan guns with onboard compressors).
Snowmaking Capacity: 10 tons of snow per minute.
We can cover close to one acre (about the size of a football field) with one foot of snow in one hour.
Avg. Hydrant Spacing: 85 feet
On-mountain system by the numbers:
Miles of Hose: 3
Hydrant Stations: 300
Total Horsepower: 5,000+