Breckenridge Ski Resort is testing automated snowmaking technology touted as more efficient
BRECKENRIDGE – Automated, software-controlled snowmaking will allow Breckenridge Ski Resort to open teaching terrain earlier than in past years. But human snowmakers don’t have to worry about losing their jobs to robots yet, the ski area’s snowmaking manager said.
Breckenridge Resort is one of the first two ski areas in North America to employ automated snowmaking technology. Techno Alpin, a European snowmaking manufacturer, is using Breckenridge and Deer Valley, Utah, as showcases for equipment the company’s chief executive officer said will allow ski areas to make better snow more efficiently.
“You don’t make slushy snow that just runs down the hill,” Techno Alpin CEO Geir Vik said recently at Peak 8’s Bergenhof restaurant. “And you can do it while you’re sleeping.”
The company builds snowmaking guns with electronic controls that continuously monitor weather conditions at gun locations. The monitors feed the information to a central computer via wireless transmission. Specialized software uses the weather information and the desired snow quality to adjust water pressure in the gun so it uses only the necessary amount of water. The software also tracks data so snowmaking managers can put an actual dollar figure on what it costs them to make snow, Vik said.
“It tracks the power used, the water used, how many acre-feet of snow are produced,” Vik said. “Before, they couldn’t do that.”
The technology makes snowmaking more efficient in several ways, Vik said. By adjusting for the humidity, air and water temperature, the guns produce the optimal snow – avoiding runny, wet snow and dry corn snow. By rotating the guns, which previously had to be manually moved by snowmaking crews, snowmaking produces even blankets instead of piles. A large pile of snow acts as insulation, trapping heat at the ground and wastefully melting snow at the bottom, Vik said.
Engineers have been developing the technology for 10 years in Europe, and Breckenridge Ski Resort snowmaking manager Brett Gray said it was time to give the technology a try.
“We’re always interested in new technology,” Gray said. “We talked and set up this program to try it out, and it’s improved our early season production.”
Gray used the new technology to open up teaching terrain at Peak 9 and the Peak 8 base area.
Gray said manpower will always be necessary in snowmaking, though.
“We can see the efficiency already, and it takes a lot of guesswork out of snow quality,” he said. “But we still need people to monitor it.”
The partners haven’t discussed costs yet, and Techno Alpin is hoping to convince other North American ski resorts to look at the new snowmaking technology. Vik said the resort can make up for the initial costs in many ways, including the time and fuel snowcat drivers use to flatten piles of snow, water and power costs, and time snowmaking personnel spend adjusting guns. He said the fan guns (as opposed to older guns that use air compressors) are oil-free and more environmentally friendly.
Gray and Vik invited Summit County’s other snowmaking managers to look at the technology recently, but despite some R.S.V.P.s, no one showed up.
“Snowmaking can make or break you in some years, like we saw last year,” Gray said. “I think this is the future.”
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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