Altitude Sickness, Column

Lay down the ice!

This article will be published during my first week of recovery from moderate lumbar surgery. The surgery is called foraminotomy, a procedure designed to widen the passageway for my sciatic nerve.

The thing I want to talk about this week is snowmaking.  The reason this season has been so glorious and long (skiing well into this month!) is because of the spectacular bang-up job that the Killington heroes who make my life worth living (snowmakers) did in their coverage of Superstar.

As one would assume with a guy like me, however, I have some advice. As with most of my advice it is unsolicited and will likely go unheeded. That said, I have a background in efficiency engineering and materials science with IBM, so I may have something to add to the discussion.

The first thing to look at is why this snowpack has lasted so long.  One reason is that it has been a coolish spring. But there are other factors, the first being that after the first day of the World Cup last year, they dumped fire hoses down the trail to ice it up for the racers. The minute they did this, I started jumping up and down, clapping my hands and squealing like a pig. I reacted this way, because I know that it makes snowpacks last.

Every time we have thaws, rains, freezing rains, freeze thaw cycles, etc. people complain loudly and long about how the quality of the skiing drops. Then I chime into the conversation saying “This is the ice we will ski on in May” and this year, June! This is born out by experience.  Winters with more freeze-thaw cycles have longer spring skiing seasons, because that water drops down into the lower snowpack, making it into ice, which has less surface area, less trapped air, and is better at storing cold.

When the snowmakers dumped water down Superstar, they created an artificial, high-impact cold rain-freeze-thaw. That wasn’t the only secret though.  The other key element to this success was blowing the final pad of snow during the March freeze.

Admittedly, this year’s March freeze was exaggerated, but part of the success of the season was due to that fresh pad of snow coming down in March instead of early February. It was subject to fewer days of thaw-rain.  I realize this seems to contradict my previous few paragraphs, but having fresh snow to protect the ice was important. Furthermore, they were smart not to move that snow around too much, and to leave it in a big deep pile, storing the cold.

So, knowing this, I have a thought, which will turn into a suggestion since we have two more years of World Cup skiing coming our way: what if this fire hose treatment of Superstar was made not only a standard operating procedure, but made something they did four to six times during the creation of the initial snowpack?

This sounds labor intensive, but hear me out. If the process went something like: snow, groom, water, freeze, repeat. Then any snowpack laid down in October would be more likely to make it through November thaws, and  crews would be less likely to have to make the pack twice.

Further, doing so would put down a significant pad of ice at the bottom of the snowpack, doubling or tripling the number of water molecules per inch of covert, making the snowpack last even longer than it did this year, and who wouldn’t like to see June 1 skiing be a regular thing? I recommend this fire hose treatment for the lead on/offs to and from the lift also. Make it like cement.

Also, I think Killington should consider habitually putting down the last layer of Superstar snow in March, or at least late February based on weather forecasts, letting the freeze-thaw rain events solidify the lower pack before covering it. Finally, leave those giant piles of snow mostly right where they are, because the deeper they are, the longer they hold the cold.

This recipe here could ensure that no one ever outlasts us. What do you say, Killington? Want to give it a try?

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