Snow at any temperature

snowtek

The Snowtek all-weather snow machine can cover a slope at almost any temperature. Photo courtesy Snowtek.

Feb. 3, 2014

Need snow even if the weather won't cooperate? A couple of companies have an answer: Snow guns that can cover a slope in white stuff even if it's 70ºF.

Main story: Snowmakers save the day – for now

By Lindsey Konkel
The Daily Climate

The California drought cost Northstar a 2014 Olympic-qualifying event: The U.S. Ski Team moved the event to Colorado. 

But what happens when there's no snow at events organizers can't move, like the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia?

Turns out, there's an answer: New snowmaking machines can produce skiable snow at upwards of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Just don't ask about the cost.

This all-weather snowmaking might make its world-stage debut this week at the Sochi Olympic games, where organizers have enlisted three mobile snowmaking units to cover the course of the Nordic combined and ski jump events if Mother Nature doesn't cooperate. Each unit, consisting of a refrigeration trailer and a snow separator, can produce up to 100 metric tons of snow a day, said Hannu Pesonen, CEO of the Finnish maker All-Weather SnowTek

The refrigeration unit chills the air and water, and the separator filters snow crystals from slush.  The snow is good but heavy, said Pesonen – "like week-old spring snow." The price for the SnowTek all-weather snowmaking? About $2 million per unit, not including energy costs. 

A new snow gun, in comparison, runs from $2,000 to $35,000. 

Competitive market

SnowTek isn't the only company in the market. An Israeli manufacturer of desalination equipment, IDE, also offers a $2 million, all-temperature snow gun. The company's All Weather Snowmaker, according to IDE, gives resort operators a solution to those inconvenient times "when your slope ends before the lift and the temp is too high for conventional snowmaking."

But is that really an answer for the industry in a warming world?

"Technology allows us to do amazing things, but we also have to question whether it is addressing the issue at a wider level," said Jordy Hendrikx, director of Montana State University's Snow and Avalanche Lab. 

Lindsey Konkel is a staff writer at The Daily Climate, an independent news service covering energy, the environment and climate change, and its sister publication, Environmental Health News.

Contact Daily Climate editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer@dailyclimate.org or follow us on twitter @TheDailyClimate 

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