The winter of 2015-2016 was a difficult one for the Mount Van Hoevenberg cross-country-ski center. Warm weather and rains forced the venue to close in February, ending a season that lasted a mere thirty-seven days.
Mount Van Hoevenberg manager Kris Cheney-Seymour said the short ski season inspired the center to find a way to stay open longer in warm winters. By the following winter, Van Ho had installed a snowmaking system known as the Snow Factory, which is made by TechnoAlpin, the company that provides snowmaking equipment at the state’s downhill resorts. The result: it stayed open 137 days last season.
“Last winter, which was not a banner year in natural snow or even temperatures, the Snow Factory was crucial to us having a successful season,” Cheney-Seymour said. “We were open just under forty days more than we would have otherwise been open.”
Nordic ski centers throughout country and the world face an existential threat from climate change. Like Mount Van Hoevenberg, many are turning to snowmaking to survive.
The Snow Factory differs from traditional snowmaking systems found at downhill resorts. It creates ice chips in an enclosed trailer. The ice is then broken up and distributed through a plastic pipe to a pile on a nearby trail. The pile is then broken up and spread to nearby trails.
The man-made snow is used to create a solid base (ideally, two feet or more) in front of the lodge, supplement popular trails, and keep a short loop trail open during warm spells. Yet Cheney-Seymour describes the Snow Factory as only a partial solution. In the long term, he said, cross-country centers need to move toward a hybrid system of snowmaking.
A hybrid system would include traditional snowmaking, the Snow Factory, and a snow-storage facility to hold snow through the off-season.
This hybrid system would allow the center to open more often for the general public and training athletes. It would also allow the venue to host World Championship and World Cup level biathlon, Nordic combined, and crosscountry skiing events. Right now, the venue is not eligible for those events because it can’t guarantee good snow conditions.