Huff Hills starts making snow with new pump house

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 9:42 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - It’s looking a lot more like winter outside, but ski areas often need more snow than Mother Nature can provide. Huff Hills Ski Area in Mandan has a new snowmaking pump house that will help improve their mountain operations this winter.

Between 300 and 650 gallons of water per minute need to be pumped from this pond at the base of Huff Hills Ski Area to all over the mountain, in order to cover the slopes in man-made snow. An upgraded snowmaking system will help them do that more efficiently this season.

“Over the summer we replaced our snowmaking pumphouse, which is the system that pressurizes the water out onto the hill, so our new system gives us an additional amount of water that we can push onto the hill at a higher pressure,” said Andrew Beck, mountain operations manager of Huff Hills Ski Area.

They can make snow on about 80% of their terrain using an underground piping system and two different types of snowmaking guns.

“We have what we call an air-less snowmaker, which is essentially just a collection of nozzles, and that system uses extremely high-pressure water and when those droplets come out of the gun, as they fall down to the ground, they’re able to crystalize into frozen particles. Our other system uses what we refer to as a fan gun. And so that uses a large fan to push those droplets of water out of the nozzles and up into the air,” said Beck.

In order to help the water droplets crystalize before they reach the ground, a snow inducer is added to the water at the pumphouse which allows more snow to be made with less water and less energy, while improving the quality of the snow. But conditions have to be just right in order to turn on the snowmaking guns.

“Anything below about 26 degrees we can make snow. The colder it is the quality goes up and the amount of snow that you can make goes up,” said Beck.

But a cold temperature is not the only thing that matters for snowmaking. Low humidity is also important for good snow quality.

Snowmaking quality chart (temperature on left, humidity on top)
Snowmaking quality chart (temperature on left, humidity on top)(Snow At Home)

And although it might feel like real snow when you’re skiing on it, only nature can produce a perfect snowflake.

“Our snow, after it’s groomed and prepped on a run, is a lot like snow that was blown across the ground and broken into pieces and turned into a drift. So if you have a drift in your front yard, it doesn’t melt as fast, it’s dense, you can walk on it — that’s really similar to what we produce out of a snowmaking gun,” said Beck.

So the next time you’re cruising down a ski trail, just remember how much effort went into putting that snow on the mountain.

Huff Hills has been busy making snow the past two days, but there’s no opening date set just yet.

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