Monday, February 02, 2004



Artifical snow -


There's been a lot of buzz lately about artificial snow. The U.S. is primitive in this area compared to Japan, but we are getting ready to catch up.

For example, Japan already has a number of indoor slopes that are open year round (so many, in fact, that one of the first ones is already being torn down).

Now the U.S. is about to get it's first indoor facility, located (predictably) in Las Vegas. Snow Creation International is building the SnowLab Dome. According to the article:It will have 180 feet (~60 meters) of vertical drop. If it works in Vegas they will try building in other cities.

Here is what one of the facilities in Japan looks like:





This facility has a slope that is 490 meters (about 1,500 feet) long, 100 meters (about 300 feet) wide and a 90 meter (about 300 feet) drop.

Making real snow indoors is expensive in a hot place like Arizona. Many indoor ski areas therefore use some sort of carpet system to create fake snow. It can also be installed outdoors on existing slopes. One of the newer systems is called SnowFlex:




The other possibility is to make massive amounts of artificial snow in temperatures greater than 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). That's the goal of SnowMagic, and it can be used indoors or out. SnowMagic is, essentially, a giant ice-maker/ice-crusher machine that can operate in temperatures up to 15 degrees C (60 degrees F) (although there have been reports of it working in summertime temperatures as well). The ice made by the machine gets crushed into tiny crystals and blown out a pipe onto the slope. Here's a nice graphic that shows the capacity of the model 50T and 150T:



The 150T is burning 500 kilowatts to freeze 30 gallons of water per minute and producing 150 tons of snow per day. If you assume that power costs 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, the 150 tons of snow costs $12,000, and it is enough to cover a slope that is 1,500 feet long, 100 feet wide and a foot deep. The equation must be, "if I can get 1,000 people to pay $20 for a lift ticket, then I make $8,000 profit per day on my $12,000 in artificial snow." If you ran the system only at night, you could probably cut the power cost down to 4 or 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Systems like these allow outdoor ski slopes to extend the season and always be open on weekends -- no more "maybe they will have snow if the weather cooperates". Snow is guaranteed on opening day and throughout the season.

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