Shoulder Season: Storms, Snowmaking and Stoke

If your stoke meter is running around the green or blue level, just give it a few days, cuz things are starting to happen.

The stoke meter climeth

First, there is moisture heading our way from a cut off low pressure system that brought a couple inches to mammoth and is heading our way promising to drop a few inches on our local mountains.  It may be warm, wet stuff (snow levels starting around 10-11k then dropping to around 8k) but snow is snow especially when it makes a base.  [Of course, be careful what you wish for since Early Season Snow can be a curse]

Precipitation totals for the next 24 hrs… Green/Blue=Good

On top of that, Further, the snowboard film by TGR featuring Jeremy Jones premiers tonight in boulder at the Boulder Theater.  I have heard great reviews (except from the folks that are waiting for the DVD’s to ship) and going to see it in a premiere atmosphere should definitely help move that stoke meter needle.  If you need a little pick me up yourself, here is the tour schedule.  If you haven’t seen the trailer, you should:

Finally, while Loveland and A-Basin are waiting to announce their dates to open, it’s getting close as you can see here:

A Basin Blowing Snow on High Noon

Loveland Changing Colors

While we are talking snowmaking, and since I was curious about how it works myself, lets dive in and see why snowmaking isn’t quite as simple as just freezing water and blowing it on a slope.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start talking about snowmaking is this thing called the “wet bulb” temperature.  What the heck is a wet bulb and why do we even care?  Well, the wet bulb, in the simplest form, is a way to relate regular temperature and humidity in the air and gives an idea of what effects evaporation will have on temperatures of air or water vapor.

Believe it or not, snowmaking CAN occur at temperatures above freezing and it can sometimes NOT occur even below freezing.  So why don’t resorts just crank the guns up whenever they want… $ and limited resources (water supply).  Especially in this economy and after last years dismal season, efficiency is the name of the game.  Basically, the drier the air (low Relative Humidity) and the colder the temperatures the more efficient.

The Efficiency Chart for Snowmaking. Green=Good Yellow=Marginal Red=Go Biking

This is all based off of how snowmaking equipment functions.  There are varying types of snowmakers but in general, they work on the same principles and need the following:

Cold Ambient Temperatures:
The Colder outside the better, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be below freezing and even if it is below freezing it’s not always ideal.

Evaporation:
Some of the heat is lost through the evaporation of molecules on the surface of the water drops that can help the water reach freezing and solidify.  Think of how cold your skin gets if you rub a little alcohol on it (not that kind of alcohol).  This is where relative humidity and the wet bulb come into play.  The more dry the air is, the easier it is to evaporate and cool the water drops.

Surface Area:
The smaller they can make each water droplet come out of the nozzle the greater surface area is exposed to the cold air and evaporation process, therefore more of the water turns to snow.

Supercooling:
Yeah, snow is pretty supercool but what they mean here is that if you use a compressed gas (like compressed air) and let it rapidly expand, it cools the air around it and helps to cool the water droplets to freezing.

Nucleation:
Not like nuclear bomb radiation or anything.  Even with natural snow from the clouds, water needs stuff to cling onto in order to really make good snow.  They call these nucleation sites and sometimes additives are used to help make this happen.  Ever heard of Cloud Seeding?

So there you have it, now you can sound super smart when you and your buddies are riding the WROD and someone asks why the joint is or isn’t making snow.

Snowmaking at A Basin Last Weekend

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This entry was posted in Snow, Snowboard, Weather and tagged , , , , by deckerra. Bookmark the permalink.

About deckerra

Just a guy that loves to be active in the outdoors. Usually dive into new activities well before realizing how much time, money and effort they really take, but enjoy it anyway. Snowboard fanatic in the winter, surf in the summer (when there's surf) just getting into mountain biking, played with kiteboarding, wakeboarding, skateboarding, diving, and probably a bunch of other stuff I don't even remember doing. www.soilandswell.com

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