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Where's the snow coming from?

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We've made our way through another year. 2014 showed up right on time, and we are all counting on a happy new year. What we could use from this new year is more snow, but we haven't any control over that. Rats.

The last snow storm is fading into memory land. According to the weather guessers, the next storm isn't quite on the horizon yet. Rats, again.

What about the snow then? Where is that stuff coming from if Mother Nature isn't dropping it?

The ski resorts generally start making snow early in the season. As soon as conditions allow, the snow canons are fired up and a base layer starts to cover the slopes. The enduring hope is that the storms will come in, close behind, and add to the man made stuff.

A robust snow pack is what we all count on, one way or another, either for year round recreation, to water crops, or to simply have enough in the reservoirs to make it through till the next wet season.

Generally, snow making by the resorts is done largely out of sight, at night. The temperatures have to be cold enough overnight to allow the canons to work their magic. The temperatures during the day will then hopefully be cold enough to maintain what was laid down the night before.

It is a fascinating, somewhat complicated, and expensive venture. Snow canons, or snow guns, are a staple of the industry, and cost quite a lot, in the multiple thousands of dollars. There's more than one kind too.

Some of them use compressed air, some use really big fans. They all use water that is under pressure. The water is sprayed into the air, where it changes to snow. The process is much more complicated than that, but it would take more space than I have to go too far into it.

There's simply a lot of science behind the whole venture. It takes around 75,000 gallons (285,000 liters for the metric crowd) to make a 6-inch blanket of snow that will cover an area about 200x200 feet (61x61 meters).

Here's the amazing part: a snowmaking system can turn 5,000 to 10,000 gallons (18,927 to 37,854 liters) of water into snow every minute. That's 30,000 to 60,000 gallons of water every hour.

Most resorts that have extensive snow making systems have access to rather large quantities of water. They either have retention pools, which capture run off, lakes, or great wells to draw from. Heavenly is one resort, among many in the Tahoe Basin, that has extensive snow making gear.

Not everyone uses extensive systems. Some have what are called supplemental systems that are stationed to provide good coverage for certain areas at the resort. Sierra-at-Tahoe uses a very well tuned supplemental system, according to Steve Hemphill, PR Director at Sierra.

Hemphill points out that although it's been a slow start, there's still plenty of snow for skiers and boarders. They get around 480 inches of snow every year, and started out this year with 54 inches. Being at Echo Summit, with a lot of north facing slopes, means the snow that falls tends to last a while.

In an interview few days ago, he said that the long range forecast for January is good, as in wet and snowy. In the meantime, conditions for families is perfect. It's easy to get there, with blue skies and mild temps, and learning to ski, or sharpening your skills, is really good right now.

The economic impact of a good ski season for the Tahoe area? It's huge, but that's another topic for another day.

No matter what, a day on the slopes, even with early season conditions, is a good day, a sentiment conveyed by this writers skiing friends.



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