Snow Cannons at Val d’Isere

Artificial snow on the ski slopes!
Photo by ‘wok.

One of the wonderful things skiers most enjoy about Val d’Isere is the length of the season – the slopes open earlier in the winter and close later in the spring, and the quality of the snow is kept consistent throughout the season. How is this accomplished? With artificial snow-making machines keeping the powder perfect whilst you sleep in your chalets, Val d’Isere never need disappoint.

Origin

The first snow cannon was created by Art Hunt, Dave Richey and Wayne Pierce in 1950, but the technology wasn’t widely adopted until early in the 1970s. Now, many ski resorts take advantage of snow cannons to keep their slopes in excellent condition. It’s good news for skiing guests staying in chalets in Val d’Isere, among many other places, which have undoubtedly benefited from Hunt, Richey and Pierce’s invention.

The Technology of Snowmaking

The basic principle of snow making is to force water and pressurised air through the snow cannon (or snow gun) on to the ski slopes. In modern snow cannons, water and compressed air are injected together to form tiny ice crystals, and then further droplets of water are injected into the air stream of the cannon’s fan. The tiny ice crystals form “nucleation points” for the larger snow crystals to form around – the way a pearl needs a smaller object to form around.

Air temperature and humidity affect the efficiency of this process. High humidity means the temperature must be lower for snow to form well, while the air temperature must always be below freezing. The process consumes huge amounts of power and resources – 200,000 gallons of water to cover an acre to a depth of one foot, according to one estimation – making it very expensive to cover a wide area around the ‘ski in ski out’ chalets; Val d’Isere operators consider it worth the expense, however, to provide the best slopes in The Alps.

About Simon Hoskyns

Partner at Alpine Answers (1997 - present)
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