Unlike mountain resorts which mostly rely on Mother Nature to cover its terrain, WinSport relies on its technology, expertise and the dedication of its crews to produce man-made snow. In fact, 95 percent of the snow on our hill is artificial.
The reason? Due to Calgary’s chinooks and lack of snowfall throughout the year, a strong base of snow is required to both open in November, as well as to sustain the many high-temperature chinooks that occur throughout the winter.
In command of it all is Ian Newcombe, Manager of Venues, who leads WinSport’s snowmaking operation. He says the operations have become that much more effective this year with the addition of some new equipment.
“We’ve added four new carrier fans, which is basically a snow gun that is on wheels,” Ian says. “This allows us to directly fill specific areas of the hill that need more snow coverage.”
Ian says the mobile snow guns can really be utilized in areas such as the base of chairlifts as well as sections in the terrain park, which are typically more challenging to adequately cover with snow. The equipment will also be useful in the late part of the season to combat bare spots.
These mobile snow guns are a great addition to the existing 26 tower guns, which are stationary and located near the middle of the hill.
Another unique aspect of WinSport’s snowmaking is the fact that all the snow guns are controlled by a system called Smart Snow, which allows Ian and his team to essentially control every function of the snow guns, including flow rates and angle, via a computer. Ian and his crew can manually adjust each snow gun or pre-set values which are dependent on temperature and humidity levels. For example, flow rates will be higher when it’s colder and dryer, which is the most ideal environment to make a lot of good quality snow in a short period of time.
“The system knows that the flow rate will be a lot less when the temperature is mild, and then knows to ramp up when it gets colder,” Ian explains. “We’re really focused on not just creating snow, but creating quality snow that isn’t too wet or too icy and this system really allows us to achieve that.”
When does the hill open?
November’s mild temperatures have created challenges for Ian’s team this year. Although the crews have begun the process, they essentially need five days of at least -2C temperatures. As of Monday, the opening of the hill is dependent on more cold temperatures in order to make more snow.
“Colder temperatures are the most important factor in creating snow,” Ian explains. “On those days when it’s -30C and the city shuts down – that’s our Super Bowl. The colder and dryer it is, the quicker we can make snow.”
Ian adds at those temperatures, the snow guns could easily make 20 metres of snow in a single day.
The sophisticated equipment plays a significant role in the snow-making operation, but what’s even more important is the team who operates it. When the conditions are ideal for making snow, Ian’s crew works around the clock, literally, to make the best snow for skiers and snowboarders.
“There’s a team of eight people who operate our snow cats (grooming machines) and push snow around for 12 hours at a time and through the night as well,” Ian explains. “What really drives the crews is making the best possible snow for the many Calgarians who want to get on snow to ski and snowboard with their friends and family.”
For Ian, who like many Calgarians learned to ski on the hill, seeing the kids hit the snow for the first time on opening day is the most gratifying aspect of opening the hill.
“It’s such hard work but seeing the kids learning to ski and snowboard and watching people on the Under Armour Super Pipe under the lights makes it all worthwhile,” Ian explains. “Giving Calgarians the experience of getting on snow to either learn the sport or just enjoy the day with their friends and family is just really awesome.”