On Friday, Arapahoe Basin announced that it will open on Sunday, making it the first ski area in the state to open for the 2023 season. Others may open soon, as several started making snow weeks ago and more snowfall is expected across the state this weekend.
But how are humans able to do a job that is otherwise left up to Mother Nature in order to open places for people to ski earlier and earlier each year?
Snow is made with compressed air, compressed water and snow guns, some of which are powerful enough to fill the Goodyear blimp in just 12 minutes.
Specific weather conditions are necessary, so snowmakers watch the forecast like a hawk and wait on standby for the optimal weather.
How is snow man-made?
Steamboat Snowmaking Manager Ryan Olson walked FOX31 Pinpoint Weather meteorologist Kylie Bearse through the whole process earlier this year.
It requires favorable weather conditions, specifically a wet bulb temperature, which measures the dry air temperature with humidity. According to Steamboat Ski Resort, lower humidity allows for a colder wet bulb temperature.
Cold, dry weather with low wind is the dream for snowmakers. Ideally, the wet bulb temperature should be no more than 26 degrees.
“The magic temperature, I mean it is perfect when it is 10 degrees out. Below 25 and above 10 is kind of perfect,” Olson said.
Steamboat Ski Resort uses water from the nearby Yampa River. Depending on the river’s temperature, water generally comes out of the snow guns at about 40 degrees. Crews adjust the settings on the guns according to the conditions.
“In order to make snow, we need the water, the water pressure, and then air to distribute that,” Olson said.
As the water is blasted out of the snow guns, the droplets must be in the air long enough to freeze before hitting the ground. Snowmakers and gunrunners adjust angles as necessary to make the best piles of soft, not icy, snow.
“It comes out as water and then gets broken apart into small particles, and then that’s when it freezes and turns into a snowflake,” Olson said.
The snow is then distributed and evened out along the mountain terrain.
Snowmakers are dedicated to their craft.
Olson said he watches weather conditions like a hawk all the time, waiting for the opportune snowmaking moments. When that time comes, teams of snowmakers work 12-hour shifts hiking up and down the mountain paying close attention to weather conditions and adjusting accordingly.
“A lot of work goes into snowmaking,” he said.
According to the resort, teams can pump over 5,000 gallons of water each minute and run 140 guns at a time. Water from the Yampa River travels through some 40 miles of pipe before it reaches the resort. Olson said there are 800 hydrants that they spray it out of.
With technology evolving, snowmaking continues to become a more efficient process, allowing ski areas and resorts to maximize snow creation while keeping the environment in mind.