Making snow for the slopes: How it’s done and how much is needed

ANDALUSIA, Illinois -- Snowstar Winter Sports Park's snow makers are working full blast in anticipation for a new winter sports season. Despite record-setting November snowfall in the Midwest, local winter sports complexes are pumping out out the powder.

How exactly do they make this fresh snow, and how much do they need? John Thomas, hill manager at Snowstar, told News 8 how intricate snow making can be.


Making snow is "One hundred percent dependent on the weather," Thomas said.

There are three weather factors at play here, Thomas said. First, the air temperature needs to be under 32 degrees Fahrenheit before the machines can spray snow because the water that enters the machine needs to freeze.

"If you did that during the summer time, it'd be like the world's biggest lawn sprinkler," Thomas said.

Next, the humidity in the air needs to be low. Dense water vapor in the air can block droplets from freezing. That's because the cold droplets from the machine collide with warmer droplets in the air and heat is transferred.

Finally, wind plays a big role making sure the snow lands in the right place. Heavy winds can make grooming the hill harder, and in some cases, render a snow maker unusable.

Thomas said the last few years have been tough due to the weather. Mild winter weather can cost a lot of money when machines aren't able to work as efficiently.

However, frigid November temperatures have given snow making a jump start.

Inside theĀ snow makers

Thomas said the concept behind the snow maker is fairly simple. Water enters a giant fan through small nozzles and the cold air instantly freezes the tiny water droplets. What's actually happening is a little more complex.

There are actually two sets of water nozzles on some of the machines, Thomas said. One set deep inside the machine produces tiny, "nucleant" droplets. These super small particles freeze and help drop the air temperature within the fan.

The other set of nozzles pump out larger, snow-sized droplets. These contact the tiny droplets and freeze into snow, which then rides the blowing air out of the gun before cascading down onto the slopes.

Grooming theĀ slopes

Image courtesy of Snowstar Winter Sports Park.

The park needs at least 24 inches of snow to open, but the preferred depth is 36.

Once snow is on the ground, crews begin snow around to make sure it fills out the slopes. They do this inside of a SnowCat, a big vehicle with a giant shovel in the front.

Thomas said crews sometimes get started at noon and work through the night to open the next morning.

With 2,000 gallons of water per minute and 250 to 400 pounds of water pressure covering the hill in snow, Thomas says it looks like it will be a good season for snow.

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