SOUTHINGTON — As the temperatures drop, area ski resorts are getting ready for the season by working around the clock to make snow.
The Record-Journal recently hit the slopes with some of the team at Mount Southington — General Manager Duane Bass, Supervisor of Snow Making Shane Riley and Lift Mechanic Josh Wilensky – to talk about what it takes to make all that snow.
Q: How long have you been making snow at Mount Southington?
Riley: I’ve been here making snow for eight years.
Wilensky: This will be my fourth season.
Bass: I’ve been here for 30 years.
Q: What are some of your responsibilities when it comes to making the snow?
Riley: We have a lot of responsibilities when it comes to snow making, primarily it’s safety because there’s nothing but hazards on the hill. The snow guns are high voltage guns and they run off high pressure water and high pressure air.
It takes a couple hours to get everything ready for snow making for the night. Probably four hours to get everything ready.
Q: What is needed to make snow?
Riley: The yellow fan guns are techno alpines, we have about 30 of them. Air water guns — we have probably 60 that just shoot out air and water. Everything runs off of stuff in the pump house, the air compressors and water pumps.
Q: What is the process like from start to finish?
Riley: So we have our snow making pond, it’s really a holding pond. It only holds about 1.5 million gallons of water and it takes between 10 and 15 (million) to cover the hill so we have access to city water as well. So once the pond gets to a certain level or once we know we’re going to make snow for 60 hours straight we turn on the city water and it fills the pond as we’re sucking the water out of it.
Wilensky: After that it gets into the pumps, the pumps pressurize the water and send the pipes up the hill. Depending on the gun they either need water because they have their own compressors or we also have very large compressors that supply air to the hill and they mix in the gun and the combination of the high water pressure and high air pressure go through the gun and you get snow.
Q: Do you have a control room?
Riley: We do. It controls the pump station not the guns. The guns on the hill are all manual.
Q: What is the difference between natural snow from the sky and the snow you make here?
Riley: It’s frozen water crystals. The water crystals are so small coming out of the gun, out of the nozzles, that it seems like snow because you can make it soft and make it powdery.
Wilensky: We can make it more powdery if we want, we can control how it comes out.
Q: What do the conditions have to be like to make snow?
Riley: Normally anything below 28 degrees for a stretch of four hours.
Bass: The ideal temperature is anything below 20, we can make a lot more snow and much bigger piles.
Q: What are the hours like?
Wilensky: We get some long hours overnight, all day, everyday and we just keep going until we don’t have temperatures anymore.
Q: Has the process changed at all over the years?
Wilensky: We’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated over the years. Last year we did a major upgrade, all our pump stations, we ‘ve been getting new guns every year and our technology is state of the art.
Riley: Yeah, the pump station is fully automatic you can actually start the snow making system from your phone if you choose to.
Q: How does weather impact snow making and trail conditions?
Riley: Years like last year it was 60 degrees all of February and we couldn’t make snow at all in February and we lost a lot.
We normally don’t make snow in November, let alone before Thanksgiving (done this year due to lower than normal temperatures).
Q: When do you know the trails are ready to be used?
Wilensky: Once the hill is about three to five feet deep everywhere. That’s enough. By Christmas we should be 100 percent covered everywhere.
Mount Southington is expected to open for the season Saturday.
Powder Ridge in Middlefield is also gearing up for the season with Dec. 8 as its projected opening date with a full opening Dec. 15. Laura Loffredo, Powder Ridge sales and marketing, said Friday the mountain park and resort started making snow last week for a few chilly and nights and will continue once temperatures drop again.