With cool temperatures and low humidity, New Mexico is home to some of the best natural snow in America. But when Mother Nature needs a helping hand, skiers and snowboarders throughout the Land of Enchantment benefit from the state’s modern snow making systems which provide much of the idyllic trail surfaces they enjoy throughout the day.
Snow making dates back to the early 1950s with the invention of the first snow cannon and gained widespread popularity at resorts throughout America in the 1970s. Today, it allows winter sports enthusiasts to hit their favorite slopes earlier in the winter and later into spring.
The artificial snow not only creates a base for early season skiing, but also provides an excellent foundation that allows natural snowfall to stick sooner. As springtime approaches, the more dense man-made snow is better able to endure through the freeze-thaw cycle created by the warmer days and cold nights, extending the season beyond what would be possible naturally.
Snow makers use every forecasting tool possible to monitor the weather and make their winter plans. That includes meteorologist discussion boards, on-site weather stations, current trends in the oceans and historical weather data. Snow making is always a balance of production, timing, year-to year-forecast and goals.
At Ski Santa Fe, Operations Manager Tommy Long likes to start making snow on November 1. That date has both to do with the water rights as well as low enough temperatures.
“We are set up to put a lot of water on the hill relatively quickly if temps are right. The colder the temps, the more water you can effectively turn into snow. Humidity plays a role in this as well, but cold is king,” says Long.
Snow makers look for a wet bulb temperature of 28 degrees and below, which factors in the ambient temperature and the humidity. The colder and dryer it is, the more snow you can create, which makes New Mexico one of the best places in the world for simulating perfect snow.
In a good year, skiers contribute more than $400 million to New Mexico’s tourism economy, so it’s critical to keep up with the latest technology to provide the stellar snow experience New Mexico is known for. As the snow making industry moves heavily into automation, Ski Santa Fe is embracing the newest tech with open arms.
“We have the ability to run our guns in automatic so they take into account changes in temperature, humidity, and the desired product you are looking for, like lighter, dryer snow or wetter, heavier snow. With the current climate demands and the need to maximize efficiency, snow making is becoming smarter, faster and more dynamic,” says Long.
After the snow is created, there’s still work to be done as crews use snowcats to create a consistent, groomed surface. Finally, tillers are used to pack down the new snow and craft that perfect corduroy surface every skier and snowboarder loves.
The skilled craftsmen are already hard at work making snow at your favorite New Mexico ski area. It’s not too soon to make plans to come see for yourself how smooth a ride it is. Ski Santa Fe, Red River Ski & Summer Area, Taos Ski Valley and Sipapu will all be open this week and have been blowing snow to get ready for the Holiday weekend!