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How Snowmaking Is Rescuing Our Ski Resorts From The Worst Start In Two Decades

And you thought the white stripes were a band.

28/06/2017 4:56 PM AEST | Updated 28/06/2017 4:58 PM AEST
Falls Creek Facebook

Weather forecasters predict a great big dump of snow in the Australian Alps early next week -- and not before time for the school holiday throngs visiting our snow resorts.

Up to 50cm is forecast, but any snow at all will be welcome because June has been way drier and warmer than normal. The snow depth at Snowy Hydro's official measuring station at Spencers Creek (in NSW) about halfway between Perisher and Thredbo?

A measly 8cm. Which is the worst start to a season in two decades.

As you can see in the graph below comparing 2016 and 2017, conditions can change quickly. But for now, with barely any natural snow around, the hero of the season has been the snowmakers.

Snowy Hydro
This year's line is the blue. You can see pretty clearly how fast the depth increased last year from late June onwards and how, interestingly, it peaked as late as October.

All major Australian ski resorts have had runs open since early June, thanks almost entirely to snowmaking. If you don't know, snowmaking is the process of pumping a mix of water and compressed air into the cold night sky. What comes down is basically snow.

Here's a typical morning scene for season 2017 so far at the bottom of Thredbo, which has Australia's largest snowmaking system.

Thredbo

Snowmakers basically never sleep for the entire winter. "We've made 100,000 cubic meters of snow in June so far," Thredbo slopes manager Shane Macleod told HuffPost Australia in a 5am email.

Thredbo

"100 million litres of water have departed our pumphouse for snow production. That's the capacity of 40 Olympic sized swimming pools. On Monday night we made 12,038 cubic meters alone, with 195 snowmaking cannons blazing."

"That's a lot of snow!!!"

It is. And it has enabled Thredbo to get its 3km High Noon run open, as well as several others. But if you can't quite envisage how all those numbers translate to skiable slopes, allow us to illustrate it for you further.

We love this pic of Falls Creek in Victoria taken a week or two back. Brown hills in the background, snowy slope ripe for skiing in the foreground.

Falls Creek Facebook
The grooves are created by snow grooming machines and are known colloquially as "corduroy".

This image of Mt Buller shows a dormant snowgun and the result of its efforts (along with other guns). If you panned the pic wider, you'd see lovely brown grass either side of the famous Bourke St run.

Mt Buller Facebook

Here are two pics of Perisher which illustrate the power of the snowguns. The first shows a wide view of Perisher Valley looking over to Mt Perisher on the left, where a strip of snow has been prepared for skiing.

ski.com.au

The photo below shows the Front Valley area in all its glory, which is just out of sight on the right of the above image. As you can see, these people would NOT be riding the chairlift or skiing the runs without a lot of help from Perisher's snowmaking crew.

Perisher

Perisher has now managed to get its popular Zali's run open in the Blue Cow section of the resort. As you can see, there ain't much snow off the run. But the run itself looks fine.

sxi.com.au

Small resorts also benefit from the snowmakers' efforts. The image below was the scene on Wednesday afternoon at Selwyn Snowfields, a small affordable family resort in NSW.

ski.com.au

As for the snowmakers, do they get a rest when the big blizzards arrive? Forget it. Usually they're out in force adding to the natural falls. It's cold, round-the-clock work, but it's been keeping the Aussie snow resorts -- and an entire industry -- going so far in season 2017.

Thredbo
Thredbo's massive snowmaking system has bridged the gap between natural snowfalls so far this season.

Mother nature, it's your turn to chime in now.


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