August 6, 2013


Snowmaking towers at Rikert Nordic Ctr

The ever-increasing list of cross country (XC) ski resort snowmakers now includes Trapp Family Lodge,steeped in tradition and one of the oldest XC ski areas in the USA. That’s right, they’re making machine-made snow at Trapp Family Lodge.

In fact, a list of American XC ski area operators that have snowmaking is now totals than 30. The list includes resorts in Vt., which is the state with the most areas that have employed snowmaking.

The list includes Mountain Top ResortCraftsbury Outdoor CenterTrapp Family Lodge, and Rikert Nordic Center. Other New England XC ski areas include Bretton Woods Nordic Center, the Nordic Center at Waterville Valley, and Great Glen Trails in N.H., Pineland Farms in Maine; and Weston Ski Track in Mass. 

Cross Country Ski Headquarters in the central U.S., produces snow in Mich. and the western XC ski area snowmakers include Royal Gorge in Calif. and Soldier Hollow in Utah.

Rikert Nordic Center in the Middlebury, Vt. area installed one of the largest snowmaking systems in the country last winter. Mike Hussey, Rikert’s owner formerly worked for the snowmaking machine company HKD. He has 20 snow guns in place at Rikert, covering 5 km of trails in 3 loops. The system at Rikert went operational to host the NCAA Championships last March.

One XC ski industry consultant dubbed the resort quandary as “precipitation roulette” 20 years ago because of the susceptibility to the weather (no snow). 

Some business-oriented reasons to install snowmaking include operational security to guarantee skiing programs and staffing; competitive advantage against other xc ski resorts that do not have machine-made snow’ and guaranteeing snow cover on important holiday periods, which can represent more than 30 percent of annual winter business. 

The availability of less expensive and portable snowmaking systems are main motivations, but other business-driven issues are relevant too, such as filling lodge rooms and fulfilling season pass holders’ desire to extend the ski season beyond Mother Nature’s whim.

 Hussey stated, “When people know you’ll have consistent snow then programming such as lessons, training, and early season events can be scheduled.” Guaranteed snow impacts every revenue center such as retail, repair, and food and beverage, too.

The necessary elements of a snowmaking operation include cold temperatures, water, high pressure, power, and system components such as piping, pumps, compressors, and snow guns. The power requires both manpower and energy supplied by electricity or fuel. 

There are many industry horror stories about the night hours and difficulty of the work associated with snowmaking for XC skiing. Getting the snow to efficiently cover a narrow corridor trail is also a challenge. Many operations simply cover a field and then move the snow to the trails.

Pineland Farms in Gloucester, Maine is making snow because it wanted to ensure its ability to host local school and club race programs and a one kilometer loop has been created with the intention to cover a 5 km loop. 

Soldier Hollow in Utah made snow to cover 2.2 km of trails and 4-6 lanes on the tubing hill while snowmakers used machines to make snow on 2 km of trails at Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vt.

But the most significant issue has always been the investment required for many XC ski businesses, which are small and seasonal. It is now at a point where operators atMountain Top Resort in Chittenden, Vt. decided that snowmaking was a higher priority than selling retail products at the ski center. 

Snowmaking supports so many aspects of the business from rental operations and ski lessons to dog sledding and snowshoeing. In terms of the guest perspective, winter guests expect to book travel to a destination and get the experience that was desired. That, obviously, includes snow. 

Who knows, perhaps there will be a day sometime soon when snowmaking will be a basic aspect of cross country skiing at commercial resorts.

Photo: Snowtower at Rikert Nordic Center in Vt. (Rikert Nordic Center) 

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