In the interest of providing our community, members and guests with more reliable skiing at home in northern VT, Craftsbury has developed its ability to make snow to supplement what nature provides.
Why do we want to make snow?
Craftsbury has always enjoyed a good reputation for having snow cover throughout the season. However, natural snow is not reliable - especially early and late in the year. Only occasionally do we have snow at Thanksgiving. Frequently we have natural snow for Christmas; but some years we don't. Sometimes the snow lasts well into March, but other years it does not. The goal of our snow-making project is to augment the natural snowfall enough to create a more reliable and consistent ski season.
How does snowmaking benefit the greater Craftsbury community?
The benefits to area skiers are clear, and we hope the reliability of snow will draw even more local people to become skiers.
The project also benefits the community in broader, but slightly less obvious ways:
- Early snow attracts business to area stores, restaurants, and lodging at a time of year when there historically hasn't been much tourist traffic. The seasonal rental housing market appears to have likewise strengthened.
- Jobs in the area, including those at the Outdoor Center, have become less seasonal, providing more stable income over the course of the year.
How does snow-making fit the mission of the Outdoor Center?
Our mission has three prongs: lifelong sports, sustainability and land stewardship. Considering each of these:
- Lifelong sports: The ability to augment our natural snow makes Nordic skiing available on a more reliable basis throughout the winter, thereby providing more opportunities for regular, outdoor, lifelong fitness to our greater community.
- Sustainability: Early snow at Craftsbury has allowed New England's serious skiers to get on snow at the very beginning of the season, without the carbon cost of flying out west or driving up to Quebec. We do our best to produce snow as energy efficiently as we can. For example, we recover waste heat from the generator and use it to help heat our buildings.
The reality is that we always did a massive amount of snow farming - our term for moving natural snow from the sides of trails; plowing snow from parking lots and fields; trucking it out on to the trails; etc. Snow making makes the snow farming effort more efficient and more effective, creating a more reliable and consistent ski season.
- Stewardship of land, lake & trails: The lake is an important natural resource to all of us, so we did careful research to make sure that our withdrawal of water would not have a negative effect on the lake. (See some of the details we found in our studies below). Of course the state needed to approve this, too, and they did. As part of receiving the water withdrawal permit, we have taken on responsibility for monitoring lake levels throughout the year. Along with this new capacity for making snow, we continue to maintain and improve our trails so that a minimal amount of snow is needed to make them ski-able. This makes the trails nicer for summer use, too.
How much water is needed?
We asked and were given permission to withdraw 2 million gallons per winter, which represents less than 1/2" of lake level if taken all at once. How much is 2 million gallons? To put it in perspective, in our program of monitoring the lake level, we have learned that the lake volume goes up as much as 6-8 million gallons after a heavy rain and regularly varies up & down by a million gallons daily. In years past, when the Center used lake water for its tap water supply, the annual usage likely surpassed 2 million gal/year.
What else did you learn through monitoring the lake?
The process of monitoring the lake and studying all the inflows and outflows was fascinating and resulted in an interesting discovery. In all the years of sculling on the lake, we had not realized that there is also a northern outlet. We were well aware of the dam at the south end that releases water toward Little Hosmer. But there is also a northern exit that releases three times as much water as the southern one, in the direction of Lord's Creek (which parallels Creek Rd heading north.) The lake is truly at the top of its watershed, emptying in both directions.
Despite having two exits, the lake is constantly supplied by springs and small streams such that it produces about 1.5-2 million gallons per day of outflow, even without rain. So the 2 million gallons the Center system may use over the course of a winter are almost literally the proverbial "drop in the bucket".
What ramifications does the additional snowpack have on springtime runoff?
The impact of additional snow is no different than that of a good natural snow year. We supplement natural snowfall with man-made - not create extra.
When do you make snow?
We anticipate needing to make snow in November in order to have some skiing at Thanksgiving, sometimes in December to be sure there is snow for Christmas, and as needed during thaws that threaten to stop skiing in January, February & March.
Where do you make the snow?
We produce the snow right on our soccer fields using three of the quieter fan-style snow guns and then move the snow around as needed. We hope to ensure snow cover on several kilometers of our core trails, specifically Lemon's Haunt, and our new homologated sprint course. Our next priority is the longer 3.75k homologated course.
In some cases, snowmaking involves additives, is it the Center's plan to use these sorts of chemicals?
We do not use any of these nucleators in our process.
What about snow saving?
In recent years, some cross country ski areas have begun to practice snow saving. Snow saving is essentially blowing snow during the winter, storing it in a large pile under wood chips so that it lasts through the summer, and then uncovering it in the fall and using it to create a "saved-snow" loop. This allows ski areas to provide skiing even earlier in the season, when temperatures don't allow for consistent snowmaking. We are in the process of learning whether this method will be effective in Craftsbury as part of a UVM geology study. While we're not currently using snow saving to create early skiing, we hope to use this method in the future. To learn more about the UVM study, make sure to look at our series of blog posts explaining the process.
While we know we haven't answered every question, we hope that we've given you an understanding of the project and why we took it on. We feel that snow-making has been a very positive addition to the Center, local community and broader ski community as well in the coming years. Should you have any further questions, please email us at email@example.com.