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January 2017

Speak Out :: The Value of Snowmaking

Snow brings people. And people bring their wallets. The contents of those wallets drive the economies of most ski area communities, small or large. People spend money in restaurants, hotels, and retail shops. When these establishments are busy, they often need help from local service people to keep everything running. As a result, electricians, plumbers, contractors, and the like are busy as well—all because there’s snow.

Written by Roger McCarthy | 0 comment

A bad winter sends a ripple through a resort’s surrounding community. But modern snowmaking makes it possible for there to be snow where it matters most—at the ski area—even when Mother Nature doesn’t provide.

Still, between investing in equipment, maintaining infrastructure, and then actually operating the system, snowmaking comes at a significant cost—which the ski area pays for. But if snow benefits all, why does the entire bill fall in the lap of one?

Regional governments need to look at snowmaking as an essential component that provides a dramatic economic boost to their jurisdiction. Snow is the one essential that drives revenues for entire communities during the winter. Without the white stuff on the ground, no one is making any money.

Tourism is fundamentally an export business, but it’s rarely seen that way. It generates a massive amount of residual tax. So, taking on the cost of snowmaking should be a cooperative effort. It requires a variety of initiatives through subsidies, tax incentives, and even government grants for snowmaking. Done right, snowmaking reservoirs can also be another way to increase regional water storage, providing an additional benefit to the area.

With funding from the wider community, resorts can also afford an additional improvement: automation. A few years ago, I was skiing with the snowmaking personnel at a resort near Grenoble, France. The snowmaking building looked nothing like those in the U.S. or Canada. There were no snowmobiles parked outside, and inside there wasn’t a locker room, a lunchroom, or control room—just a row of pumps and compressors. Back outside, one snowmaker handed a laptop to another, and he went home with it to make snow.

From a design standpoint, if it takes more than 10 minutes to light up snowmaking on a trail at 27 degrees and dropping, and seven minutes to shut it off at 26 degrees and rising, that’s too long. Several European resorts can do that, and they don’t even have to be at the mountain. If a strategic approach to snowmaking isn’t already part of your life, give your head a shake.

Snow has a significant regional impact, so making a lot of it quickly and efficiently benefits all—from the ski area to the local plumber. Look for subsidies, loans, or grants from regional governments to enhance your snowmaking and continue to help the entire area thrive.