The Canmore Nordic Centre in Alberta, Canada opened for cross country skiing (XC) Oct. 22 and staged a race a few days later. This is a very early date for XC in the northern hemisphere and they were able to do it because they have snowmaking, a legacy from the 1988 Olympics in Alberta.
More and more XC ski areas are investing in snowmaking. Trapp Family Lodge steeped in tradition in Stowe, VT is included in this ever increasing list of XC ski resort snowmakers. The list of XC ski area operators that produce machine-made snow is now at about 30 ski areas including Rikert Nordic Center, Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Sleepy Hollow Inn, and Mountain Top Resort, in VT; Bretton Woods Nordic Center, Great Glen Trails and Gunstock Mountain in NH, and Pineland Farms in ME; Weston Ski Track in MA; the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, NY; Cross Country Ski Headquarters in MI; Breckenridge Nordic Center and Frisco Nordic Center in CO; and Royal Gorge in CA.
Why did these XC ski areas decide to invest in a snowmaking operation? The availability of less expensive and portable snowmaking systems are main motivations, but other business-driven issues are relevant too such as filling lodge rooms and fulfilling season pass holders' desire to extend the ski season beyond Mother Nature's whim.
One industry consultant dubbed the XC ski resort quandary as "precipitation roulette" 20 years ago. Some business-oriented reasons to install snowmaking include operational security to guarantee skiing programs and staffing; competitive advantage against other XC ski resorts that do not have machine-made snow; and guaranteeing snow cover in important holiday periods (which can represent more than 30 percent of annual winter business).
The necessary elements of a snowmaking operation include cold temperatures, water, power, and system components such as piping, pumps, compressors, and snow guns. The power requires both manpower and energy supplied by electricity or fuel. There are many industry horror stories about the night hours and difficulty of the work associated with snowmaking for XC skiing. Getting the snow to efficiently cover a narrow corridor trail is also a challenge. Many operations simply cover a field and then move the snow to the trails.
Sleepy Hollow Inn's system in Huntington, VT, is powered by solar energy, while snowmakers used machine-made snow to cover trails at Canmore Nordic Centre to run early season programs for racing teams from across North America. Rikert Nordic Center increased from an average of 70 days of operation before snowmaking was added to 140 days without inseason closures!
But the most significant issue to embark on snowmaking has always been the investment required for many XC ski businesses that are small and seasonal. It is now at a point where operators at Mountain Top Resort in Chittenden, VT decided that snowmaking was a higher priority than selling retail products at the XC ski center. Snowmaking supports so many aspects of the business from rental operations and ski lessons to dog sledding and snowshoeing. In terms of the guest perspective, winter guests expect to book travel to a destination and get the experience that was desired…and that includes snow! Who knows, perhaps there will be a day sometime soon when snowmaking will be a basic aspect of XC skiing at commercial resorts. Upper photo XC ski racing in October at Canmore Nordic Centre; Lower photo Snowmaking at Rikert Nordic Center.