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Snowmaking at Mt. Rose

Sat Nov 30, 2019 2:28 am

I thought this was interesting. From:

I only plan on skiing on runs with majority natural snow for a few seasons but I'm curious to see how this compares to other resorts like Northstar, Heavenly, Squaw.

With a base elevation of 8260’ and a robust snowmaking system, we consistently offer a six month season and some of the best snow conditions in Lake Tahoe. Since early season operations and the ability to offer a superior snow surface all season long is a priority, we have increased our snowmaking capabilities this year with two Pole Cats on Kit Carson Bowl, one Pole Cat on Ponderosa Trail and six new portable snow guns.
Quick Facts

Snowmakers: 54 Guns Total
Water Source: Our 2 wells produce a combined 1000 gallons per minute
Coverage: Top to Bottom coverage is possible from both the Main Lodge and Winters Creek Lodge at the Slide Bowl. We can make snow on 23% of the trails.

Re: Snowmaking at Mt. Rose

Sat Nov 30, 2019 10:04 am

During bad seasons I have not been impressed with snowmaking capability anywhere at Tahoe. On January 1 of 2012 and 2014 no one at Tahoe was more than 20% open and some areas were under 10%. Some of this is due to warm weather as well as drought.

So it's best to follow the snowfall and track what's actually open. I would be surprised if the Slide Mt. side of Rose doesn't open fully after this weekend's storm, leaving only the Chutes requiring more snow. Mt. Rose should be continuously above the rain/snow line this weekend.

Re: Snowmaking at Mt. Rose

Sat Nov 30, 2019 10:32 am

I agree that Tahoe snowmaking is not that impressive. Most resorts with a robust snowmaking system have hundreds of snow guns and far, far more than 1000 gallons per minute.

Even Eldora, my small home resort, had 2000 gallons capability and they upgraded some chunks of thier pipes and pumps the last year or two so it is probably higher now.

Areas back east usually have even more robust systems to deal with all the fickle weather variations.

My take is that Tahoe is close to exclusively viewing snowmaking as either emergency only, and/or like Rose - only to get a half dozen super early season trails open. Of course that can bite Tahoe in a drought year.

Re: Snowmaking at Mt. Rose

Sun Dec 01, 2019 6:29 am

Interesting. Thanks for putting that marketing hype into perspective.

Rose claims the most terrain open in Tahoe right now. I checked open terrain at Squaw, Northstar, Heavenly and all are pretty limited.

Re: Snowmaking at Mt. Rose

Sun Dec 01, 2019 10:11 am

I think after 2012, 2014 and 2018 Tahoe areas are acutely aware how much economic damage a dry early season can inflict. But the bottom line is that no big western mountain can cover a high proportion of terrain with manmade snow. Check how much was open in Front Range Colorado at Christmas of 2011, 2012 and 2017.

Mammoth’s 500 acres of snowmaking is not so different from Vail’s 700. Colorado’s climate undoubtedly has more days where snow can be made 24/7. But I’d be surprised if capacity to blow snow per hour is that different. I believe in both cases the main constraint is water supply.

Limited terrain in both the Sierra and Utah is due to snow stability. By Wednesday or so we will get a better picture.

Re: Snowmaking at Mt. Rose

Sun Dec 01, 2019 2:57 pm

I started responding to this yesterday, but lost my post and did not have time to start over. Heavenly often claims the largest snowmaking system in the West and according to ... -info.aspx are "able to cover 60% of Heavenly's trails." Not sure I believe that, even though I did see them (once, quite a few years ago) open East Bowl (aka The Face), a nearly mile-long, wide bump run under the tram to 6565' elevation CA base with a couple of days of snowmaking. In a recent year they opened Skyline Trail, the only connection from top of CA to NV by making snow at the base of Sky chair and hauling it up the chair in garbage cans when persistent wind prevented effectively making snow on the run.

I don't think Heavenly's lack of snowmaking effort in recent years is due to environmental (I.e. limited water or runoff going to Tahoe) constraints, although they have had a lot of power issues. I think it is more due to bean counters limiting the number of hours/$ available to snowmaking. Their management seems to think requiring all customers to use gondola, with no close free parking available and longish shuttle from/to free (for this year) CA base before and after skiing in early and late season is acceptable. Then even though they could make snow to allow skiing to CA base earlier in season, they seem to think downloading is an acceptable alternative. Hopefully this won't be an issue after next weekend, assuming they have staff to open and operate for CA base, which is just over mile from my family's cabin.

There is a Bloomberg video at that credits snowmaking with saving Heavenly's 2014-15 season. Another article ... ra-nevada/ has a lot of details on Heavenly's snowmaking efforts from an environmental perspective and says they can cover 73% of groomed runs.

Re: Snowmaking at Mt. Rose

Mon Dec 02, 2019 11:26 am

Yes I've heard the hype about Heavenly's snowmaking and I was impressed by anecdotal comments about East Bowl being opened on snowmaking. It's extremely rare for true advanced terrain in western North America to open on just manmade snow.

But tseeb's reference above translates Heavenly's snowmaking coverage to 528 acres, which is in the same ballpark with Mammoth and Vail at the time and slightly less than Sun Valley.

Warren Buffett wrote:Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.

The dry start to the 2011-12 season showed what the reality of western snowmaking under stress conditions really is.

Percents of terrain open mid-December, Christmas Week and mid-January:
Squaw: 2%, 2%, 2%
Northstar: 6%, 7%, 7%
Heavenly: 4%, 4%, 4%
Kirkwood: 7%, 8%, 8%
Mammoth: 13%, 14%, 14%
FYI Mammoth is strictly acreage, Northstar and Heavenly are an average of acreage and trail count, a more generous definition.

What jumps out here is that none of these areas could make any progress over a full month. Any snow being made was presumably used to maintain existing trails as there was zero natural snow during that month. Mammoth has a higher altitude lower humidity climate which presumably offers more snowmaking opportunities. But Heavenly's Sky, Dipper, Tamarack terrain is quite high too, and I remember being shocked at the time how limited Heavenly's terrain was after years of reading that snowmaking hype.

Same stats in 2011-12 for Front Range Colorado:
A-Basin: 9%, 14%, 17%
Breck: 32%, 38%, 53%
Copper: 21%, 29%, 38%
Keystone: 13%, 38%, 33%
Loveland: 17%, 20%, 22%
Vail: 27%, 29%, 30%
Winter Park: 11%, 37%, 62%
Winter Park is trail count; the others are strictly acreage.

These areas had about 4 feet of natural snow before Dec. 15 vs. 3 feet in the Sierra. The second half of December had zero but there was a foot in the first half of January. If it's dry in December/January in Colorado snow can generally still be made, but there were significant stretches during that period in 2011-12 when it was too warm in the Sierra. Nonetheless progress in the Front Range was very gradual at most areas, no surprise since no one has snowmaking coverage on more than ~600 acres. Also noteworthy is that while A-Basin and Loveland may have the October opening hype, both areas are conspicuous laggards in opening terrain in the true early season of November-January.

In the Sierra the tide was out again in 2013-14. Percents of terrain open mid-December, Christmas Week and mid-January:
Squaw: 7%, 17%, 11%
Northstar: 6%, 8%, 8%
Heavenly: 11%, 12%, 14%
Kirkwood: 7%, 13%, 9%
Mammoth: 10%, 25%, 17%
Again there was about 3 feet of snow before Dec. 15 and less than 6 inches over the next month. Slightly more terrain was open over the holidays, but some of it got sufficiently trashed that open terrain decreased during the first half of January. And again there is nothing in these stats to particularly distinguish Heavenly among its Sierra peers.

2017-18 was a more complex case:
Squaw: 24%, 22%, 22%
Northstar: 14%, 24%, 26%
Heavenly: 8%, 16%, 31%
Mt. Rose: 78%, 78%, 80%
Kirkwood: 71%, 71%, 74%
Mammoth: 71%, 71%, 80%
What happened here, both in November and early January, were warm storms with rain/snow line around 8,500 feet. This opened the majority of terrain at Mammoth, Kirkwood and Mt. Rose, while lower areas like Squaw/Alpine and Northstar got mostly rain. Heavenly's Sky, Dipper, Tamarack terrain SHOULD have benefited, but it didn't really in the November storm and only modestly in early January.

Re: Snowmaking at Mt. Rose

Mon Dec 02, 2019 6:30 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:Yes I've heard the hype about Heavenly's snowmaking and I was impressed by anecdotal comments about East Bowl being opened on snowmaking. It's extremely rare for true advanced terrain in western North America to open on just manmade snow.

But tseeb's reference above translates Heavenly's snowmaking coverage to 528 acres, which is in the same ballpark with Mammoth and Vail at the time and slightly less than Sun Valley.

Lots of interesting stats as usual Tony. Heavenly has always had lots of hype around their snowmaking (even back in the 90's when I worked there). Never seen it amount to much in real terms though, as outlined by your stats.

As to Colorado, I can certainly chime in with some knowledge. Lovelend has a modest system that to my knowledge has not been materially updated in many, many years. Thus they are falling further behind in the race to open and also in the speed of opening up even those trails that they do have snowmaking for (only the Valley at 100%, and maybe 40% of Chets Dream, one/two run on Chair 6 and one or two runs on Ptarmigan/Chair 2. Nothing at all on 4, 8, 9).

Abasin's system is very small, but being relatively new is pretty efficient for what they have. On the other hand, as of today they only have actual snowmaking pipe to 3 lower mtn and one upper mtn trail (plus Molly Hogan). On slow start year(s) they will drag hoses around pretty far to try to cover an extra couple trails both top and bottom of the hill, but it's tiny and never likely to expand by all that much (water rights issues).

Vail only has snowmaking on the front side. Would you want to ski the back bowls on snowmaking?

Winter Park upgraded significantly a year ago, but is still very underwhelming IHMO. When they open each year they barely ever have more than a couple beginner trails open.

Copper's system is more impressive than it probabaly gets credit for as you have to remember that probably 25% or more of the open acreage for Thanksgiving most years is closed off for race training only and thus not reported. I know they also have a decent sized upgrade to snowmaking in the permit process that might happen soonish. One knock against Copper on snowmaking is how much goes into SuperPipe and Large terrain park features as being priority over opening more trails. It's a bit insane to me to put that much into those items when you only have literally 2 or 3 trails open to the public. But that's what they do.

Keystone is probably the king of snowmaking in Summit County, but I can't say I know too much as I haven't skied there for more than 15 years (you could say I have a strong dislike, lol. But I might be forced to go to a race there later this season).

Breck used to be middling in snowmaking capacity, but seems to have opened terrain quicker in the past couple of years. Not being on Epic Pass means I haven't seen the Why behind that seeming change.

The most powerful systems I have ever personally seen are in the mid-Atlantic and a couple in New England (by power I mean gallons per minute/how many guns can run at once). It's been a while but snowmaking I've seen at places like Seven Springs, PA, Wisp MD, etc... and Killington or Sunday River are probably tops in the US (no idea on Canada snowmaking). Hydrant distances much closer than most resorts and tons of them all going at the same time, etc....

For reference Killington Claims:
To complement 250 inches of natural snowfall each winter, our snowmaking system covers 600 of our skiable acres. Under ideal conditions, Killington’s snowmaking system delivers 10 million gallons of water per day to more than 250 snow guns, covering 60 acres with 12 inches of fresh snow every 24 hours. Our snowmaking system features 88 miles of pipe and 1,700 snow guns (including more than 500 Low Energy guns).

That would in theory be 6,944 gallons per minute capacity.
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