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The Secret of Snowmaking

Snowmaking operations in some of Colorado’s busiest spots can turn up to 1 million gallons of water into snow each day. To do that, powerful pumps move water from storage ponds and other sources through many miles of hose into an array of snow guns. Depending on the size of the resort, hundreds of snow guns will then shoot snow into the sky and onto runs to form an early base and to serve as an insurance policy against a lack of natural snow throughout the season.

To understand what this means for energy, let’s assume that a single 1,000 hp pump is used at capacity for a total of 60 days per year. That electricity equals the average use of ~130 homes per year. Now let’s assume that over the same time period, 300 snow guns at 15 hp each turn that water into snow for a single company. That electricity equals the average use of another ~600 homes per year. So that’s a total of about 730 homes worth of electricity use per year for snowmaking at a single resort. Costs for that electricity run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and in some cases may be a resort’s single greatest expense (ahead of payroll).

This is not to say that snowmaking is bad. We live in a world where competition rules and each resort must compete with each other for customers from season opening to season closing. Snowsports add millions of dollars to the state economy. Other businesses use tremendous amounts of energy to make products we benefit from and choose to purchase. And of course, many resorts are doing all they can to reduce their energy use through more efficient snow guns that run based on outside temperatures. But this is a ‘chilling’ (see what I did there?) reminder that skiing and snowsports, like other activities, do come at a cost. The more energy is used, the more fossil fuels are burned. The more fossil fuels are burned, the greater the greenhouse gas emissions. The greater the GHG emissions, the quicker the planet warms (in general). And a warmer winter is a recipe for…you guessed it…more snowmaking.

References

Black, Jake. “The Impact of Water & Energy Use in Snowmaking at U.S. Resorts”. Transworld Business, Feb. 2016.

Colorado Foundation for Water Education. “Connecting the Drops: Snowmaking”, December 2014.

 

 

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