By Karen D. Lorentz
While Mother Nature has been kind of late with some steady small snowfalls, ski resorts don’t take anything for granted. Okemo has already received 30 inches of natural snow and, combined with round-the-clock snowmaking, had 60 trails on the main mountain, Jackson Gore, Solitude and South Face, open on Dec. 19.
“Okemo is hoping to have 80 trails open for the holiday week and possibly more. We will be making snow whenever possible as we head toward Christmas,” noted Vice President and General Manager Bruce Schmidt in a Dec. 16 interview. “The weather is looking good… The temperature and wind direction are so important as we make snow.”
With all the new types of snowguns, some temperatures work better for certain systems.
“Temperatures in the mid-20s work best for the HKD SV-10s, HKD Rangers and Ground Guns,” Schmidt explained. “To run standard HKD guns it needs to be below 20 degrees. Humidity also plays a factor and the snowmakers work off of the Wet Bulb temperature to determine when to make snow,” he noted.
“We can make snow on several mountain areas at the same time. It depends on where we are and how much water is needed per trail to determine how many guns can be running at the same time,” he added.
The behind-the-scenes crews that operate the snowmaking system and the snowguns are of course key. At Okemo, crews of 10 to 12 persons work 12-hour shifts from noon to midnight and midnight to noon. But it’s not just the hill workers who are busy. There are compressor pad and pump station operators along with supervisors in addition to the hill crew.
Those crews work with a snowmaking system that can pump 9,000 gallons a minute and if they run all night, Okemo can make around 50 acre-feet of snow (which means it covers 50 acres with one foot deep snow.)
Asked about the biggest challenges the area faces for this time frame, Schmidt said, “Weather is our biggest challenge. Winter weather can change quickly and along with wind there are challenges. We have been fortunate to have a great crew for this winter but that can be challenging also.”
Schmidt also noted the importance of grooming. “They take care of the snowmaking once the snow is made and deal with the trails after the snowmakers have moved along. The groomers really can prolong the amount of time the snowmakers have between returning to a trail. If the groomers keep the snow alive and looking good, the snowmakers can concentrate on other trails and areas. The groomers also bring the snow in from the sides, and we use a winch cat to pull the snow up from the bottom after skiers and riders take it to the bottom.”
The pre-holiday time period is especially busy: “Preparing for the holiday week is very important. Getting open is the biggest push and then maintaining a great skiing surface is very important. There are some significant expenses but it is ongoing throughout the ski season as snowmaking goes until late February.
“My job is busy, but the department heads are the ones doing the heavy lifting with hiring, training, et cetera. My role is to be at the 50,000-foot level and supporting and helping things go better and to make it easier for the department heads,” he concluded.
Photo courtesy of Okemo Mountain Resort
A groomer creates fresh corduroy on a trail under the snow guns at sunrise at Okemo Mountain Resort.