A few years ago a production company asked Sunday River to help a pilot for a TV show called Man vs. Weather. They wanted to showcase the best snowmakers in America and the raw weather that these men and women face. 72 hours, endless cans of Red Bull, and a few huge weather challenges later, this is what they found.
At Sunday River, snow is what we do best. We have the most powerful and technically advanced snowmaking system on the planet and we make a commitment to doing whatever it takes to give you the best snow conditions possible - all season, every season. We call it the most dependable snow in New England. Simply put, we make more snow more often than any other resort, spending approximately $2.5 million dollars every year so that you can book your trip with confidence whenever you plan to come. We've even created a snow guarantee to back up our commitment.
Welcome to Snowmaking 101
Snowmaking, in principle, is relatively simple. Water is pulled from a source, pumped onto the mountain, and forced through a nozzle by pressurized air. From there, the water droplets freeze into snow crystals and settle to the ground. So what separates Sunday River from everyone else? There are two sides of the answer. First, we're able to maximize each step of the snowmaking process. And second, we're commited to making snow whenever Mother Nature lets up in her efforts. So not only are we able to make snow when some other resort can't, we're willing to do so when others won't.
It sounds impressive when a ski area can claim to cover over 90% of its terrain with snowmaking (assuming they have lots of terrain to start with, of course). But far more important is the amount of snow a ski area can make at one time; this is the only true measure of how fast an area can open new terrain or refresh trails during the season. Since water is the raw material from which snow is made, water supply is a critical determinant in how much snow a ski area can make. Most ski areas are located near the top of a watershed and depend on relatively small water sources and ponds. Sunday River, on the other hand, is blessed to be located near the bottom of a huge watershed with nearly 43 square miles of drainage. Our water is pulled directly from the Sunday River and is constantly replenished. Our system can pump 9,000 gallons per minute from the river to the resort, then pump the same 9,000 per minute up onto the mountain. If we were to add additional pumping capacity we are permitted to draw up to 50,000 gallons per minute from the river. Once the snow melts in the spring it returns to the same watershed and river.
In addition to water, air also determines overall system capacity. Air is measured in volume and pressure. Sunday River operates the world's largest high-pressure snowmaking system and can compress about 54,000 cubic feet of air each minute. The high volume and pressurized system allows Sunday River to make more snow than any other resort and allows us to control the process to ensure consistent snow texture from the top to the bottom of each trails. This air capacity allows us to run over 300 guns at once.
Obviously, air and water capacity are the two biggest factors in snowmaking. There are two others: the number of guns in the snowmaker's arsenal, and the spacing of the hydrants on the mountain. Some ski areas own only enough guns to match their maximum water and air capacity, so after making snow on one trail crews must move all of the guns and hoses to the next trail. Sunday River's arsenal includes over 1,900 snow guns and 30 miles of hose - enough to leave guns set up all winter long on each trail. These are spread along 72 miles of snowmaking pipes that span all eight of our mountain peaks. Hydrant spacing is also a factor. Many resorts space hydrants up to 200 feet apart - meaning that each gun must cover a much larger area of the trail. Sunday River utilizes an average hydrant spacing of 85 feet - and on trails intended for early season skiing and riding, hydrants are placed as little as 30 feet apart. Wide spacing also tends to produce large "whales" of snow that must then be pushed around by groomers. This packs the new snow down and doesn't allow water a chance to seep out - resulting in hard, sometimes icy snow. By spreading snow evenly as it's made, Sunday River can generally avoid grooming new snow for at least 24 hours, allowing the snow to "cure" or dry.
On-Mountain System By the Numbers
- Snowguns: 1,900
- Miles of pipe: 72
- Miles of hose: 30
- Hydrant stations: 2,200
Sunday River invests nearly $1 million each season in new snowmaking technology that allows us to make more snow while using less energy, and cover the mountain even faster.
Some of our first investments were in Boyne Low-E Fan Guns that more efficiently convert water into snow crystals – especially at marginal temperatures above 25 degrees.With the Boyne guns compressed air is injected with a very small amount of water in an inner ring at the center of the gun. This compressed air/water mixture then freezes as it’s propelled by the fan and merges with water from the outside nozzles to create crystals. The extended and tapered nose cone adds about 18 inches to the overall length and improves expansion cooling as the air leaves the gun. The greater the expansion cooling, the more water freezes. The unique shape and additional length raises velocity and distributes snow further, allowing more hang time for powdery snow. However, the true secret weapon in this snowgun is the exclusive Boyne-designed water bath technology that is capable of yielding higher production output while achieving lower energy consumption. The combination of each of these modifications has created a one-of-a-kind fan gun only found at Boyne resorts.
Over the last several years Sunday River has also invested in high-energy tower mounts, which position snowguns high above trails to allow snow crystals more time to freeze in the air before settling down on trails and allow each gun to cover a greater surface area of the traits. To make these tower mounts even more effective we have also invested in new energy-efficient gun heads which are able to make more snow using less energy and allow us to run more snowguns at one time.
Sunday River was also the first to utilize computers to actually control snow quality. Some ski areas rely on snowmaking crews to literally hold their coat sleeves in a plume of snow to judge its quality. At Sunday River a snowmaker calls in to the pump house by radio and gives his or her location. The crew chief then enters this into the computer, which calculates the optimum setting for the guns at that location based on the air and water pressure and weather data including temperature and humidity relayed by remove weather stations at different elevation bands on the mountain. On each run, the crews check the settings and move the guns to ensure that coverage and snow quality is consistent.
Snowmaking is a big part of Sunday River's history, and will always be part of our future. As we look toward the future we will continue investing in our snowmaking system and making each part of the snowmaking chain more efficient and more powerful. This means more snowguns, new technologies, and some big steps like our plan to double the water capacity of our system. You can learn more about Sunday River's growth plans in our Vision For The Future.