There is a whole crew of unsung heroes responsible in part for the success of our winter sports attractions in Chautauqua County. We’re referring to the hard working people who groom and make snow for our area cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and downhill trails. In this three-part blog series, Trail Blazers, we will shine light on the labor, economics and science required to bring our winter trails to life!
Part I – The Snowmakers of Peek’n Peak Resort
Peek’n Peak Resort was the first New York ski area to completely open its slopes this year. They also beat their own personal record, opening all 26 slopes, all 7 tubing lanes and the 180 Terrain Park in only 14 days. Snowmaking beings after three consecutive cold days, meaning a 28° F of below wet-bulb temperature. The wet-bulb temperature is determined by the air temperature vs. humidity, and is the lowest temperature that can be obtained by evaporating water into the air at a constant pressure.
Twenty-five miles of underground air and water lines run from the pump house to the 326 tower snow guns that are strategically placed along the slopes. First step is to charge the lines, which can power 120 snow guns at a time by pumping out water at 500 psi and air at 100 psi. Most snow making is done at night so that skiing isn’t disturbed. Brad Gravink, Peek’n Peak Resort’s Director of Mountain Operations, maintains a crew of snowmakers that run in 12-hour shifts, 24/7. After the night crew makes the snow, they have to move it around with the giant snowcats and groom the slopes.
Snowcats are a crucial piece of heavy equipment that requires a certain level of skill to operate. Two joysticks, dozens of buttons and a touch screen computer are all orchestrated in harmony by the snowmaker. The front of the machine contains a cutting-blade that slices through the snow and then the tracks press it all flat. A tiller near the back of the cat quickly spins and chews up the snow so the combs can lay fresh corduroy, the grooves that skier’s and snowboarder’s dreams are made of.
The day crew is not off the hook. The morning begins with grooming the Terrain Parks. There are a total of four on Peek’n Peak’s grounds, the 180, 260, 540 and 720 Terrain Parks. They are designed to challenge skiers and riders of all levels and feature ride-on boxes, rails, jumps, challenging turns, berms, wall rides and more. Each park takes time to carefully groom, always keeping the guest’s enjoyment top of mind. They also service the giant air compressors and machinery in the pump house, maintenance grooming equipment and even groom the slopes mid-day if required.
Snowmakers have to possess a certain level of perfectionism and a ton of pride when it comes to their work. While Chautauqua County is no stranger to receiving ample natural snow, upwards of 240” inches annually, making and grooming snow allows for a longer season and better rides. Peek’n Peak Resort knows and appreciates that. They honor the team during “Snowmaker Appreciation Week.” Employees from all areas of the Resort are encouraged to high five the crew as a thanks for all of their hard work.
The main priority is to maintain the base layer of snow. Constant access to water to make snow is necessary. Peek’n Peak has its own pond for that. It’s the same pond that is used to irrigate the greens during golf season. Another ingredient essential to maintaining a proper base is called Snomax® Snow Inducer. Snowmax® is an environmentally safe product derived from a natural protein that
allows better quality snow to be generated with less water.
As this article is being written, January 2017, Chautauqua County and much of the Northeast US have been experiencing rain and daytime temperatures in the mid 30°s. Because of snow making technologies and the tireless efforts of the crew at Peek’n Peak Resort around the clock, all 26 downhill slopes, tubing lanes, two Terrain Parks and the new Terrain Based Learning Center are all open for guests to enjoy. For the most current Conditions Report, click here.
A snowmaker’s work doesn’t end in the off-season. That is precious time used to repair the 25 miles of underground air and water pipes feeding the snow guns and to service other equipment. Some do get rotated to the Golf Course irrigation team or the Mountain Adventures team, but all remain employed with Peek’n Peak year round.
Now that you know way more about snowmaking than you ever thought you would want to, it’s our hope you have a new appreciation for all of the work these crews do. If you pass them at Peek’n Peak, keep the tradition of “Snowmaker Appreciation Week” alive and give them a high five! Be sure to check Peek’n Peak Resort’s website for Stay and Play Promotions throughout the season and remember, just because there isn’t a lot of snow in your backyard, the slopes at Peek’n Peak are probably calling your name.