What is snowmaking?
Mt Buller guests wake to fresh snow more often thanks to our snowmaking system, which gives mother nature a helping hand. When temperatures are suitable, Mt Buller can make snow on our most popular runs, including Bourke Street, Little Buller Spur and Wombat, the Summit area, Chamois and northern runs including Burnt Hut Spur and Shakey Knees.
Snowmaking machines replicate nature by converting water into snow. When water is sprayed through a snowmaking hose it is separated into small particles. A nucleating agent is added and the water particles are then cooled by projecting them through the cold air.
The result is snow on the ground. When running at full capacity, Mt Buller’s snowmaking system can make enough snow to fill two 44 gallon drums every second. That’s 120 drums per minute and 7200 drums per hour. The snowmaking system covers an area 36 times larger than the MCG arena.
What temperatures are suitable?
A wet bulb temperature of -2C or below is generally needed for snowmaking. The wet bulb temperature is a combination of ambient air temperature and humidity. Snow can be made at higher ambient temperatures if the humidity is low.
What is nucleation?
Nucleation is the creation of small ice crystals to seed the bulk water droplets. Snowmaking machines are fitted with one or more nucleating nozzles that use compressed air to breakdown and freeze water particles into tiny ice crystals. The ice crystals act as a nucleator, which initiate the freezing process when introduced into the stream of water particles from the other nozzles. Other nucleators, such as Snomax, can be added to assist the freezing process.
What is Snomax?
Snowmax is a natural source of ice nucleating protein that induces the formation of snow crystals. These proteins are commonly present in bacteria found on plant surfaces. Scientists have identified and purified the bacteria that produces the proteins. Environmental studies show this protein breaks down within a month of being in the soil.
Our water storage reservoir is located next to our Snowflake Factory at the top of Baldy. This reservoir has a capacity of 70 million litres. The reservoir is filled from the Boggy Creek catchment area at a continual rate of 35 litres per second.
Large quantities of water are required in the snowmaking process, for example to cover an area of 100 meters by 100 meters with 300mm of snow, you would need 3000 cubic meters of snow. This is 1.3 mega litres of water. With cold temperatures, the Mount Buller system can convert 720,000 litres of water to snow every hour.
There are two basic methods for snowmaking in operation at ski areas worldwide. The older technology is using large compressors and air/water guns. This air/water technology is costly to install, very costly to operate and noisy. However the guns are small and compact, making them easier to move and easier to set up on steep slopes. The guns also work well on narrow trails and are less affected by wind or ice.
The newer technology uses electric fan snowmakers. The worldwide trend is toward fan systems due to less capital cost, reduced operating costs and less noise. However the fans are much more difficult to move around and are affected by wind and ice particularly in exposed areas.
Machine-made snow is made wetter than fresh natural snow. Why? It last longer, holds up better, resists blowing away, grooms easier and is the most efficient to make. Wetter snow is more efficient because more snow can be made with the same amount of equipment, the same amount of horsepower and the same number of staff.
Mt Buller's Snowmaking System
Snowmaking began on Mount Buller in the 1970s with a pilot system on Enzian Ski Run, which was later moved to Bourke Street. Our main snowmaking infrastructure was installed in 1994 at the Snowflake Factory on the top of Baldy. This included the water storage reservoir, air compressors, pump station and distribution pipelines for water and compressed air. The snowmaking system infrastructure and distribution pipelines were designed and built to accommodate future increases in capacity as coverage areas are increased.
Mount Buller led the way in Australian snowmaking systems by installing a combination system of fan and air/water guns. The snowmaking system is based around a central high level water storage reservoir, pump station and central air compressor station. Large distribution pipelines deliver the water and compressed air to the various ski runs. Water and compressed air delivery hydrants are located down the edge of the runs where the snow guns are coupled using flexible snowmaking hoses. We currently have 223 snow gun connection hydrants around the mountain. We operate a total of 81 snowmaking guns - 57 fan guns and 58 air/water guns.
The present coverage of snowmaking at Mt Buller includes:
- Bourke Street
- Magic Forest
- Snowtubing Park
- Spurs Beginner Area
- Burnt Hut
- Howqua Extension
- Family Run
- The Chute
- Little Buller Spur
- Whiskey Creek Trail
- Shakey Knees
- Access trails
Total ski able area of snowmaking: Over 78 hectares - which is approximately 25% of our skiable terrain and marked trails!
There are three weather stations constantly monitoring the temperature and humidity at various locations around the mountain. This data is collected every 10 minutes and fed to a central storage computer situated in the snowmaking control room. The system can be set to call out the snowmakers as the temperatures drop.
Effects of snowmaking
Snowmaking has done a lot to increase the reliability and standard of skiing at Mount Buller. Bourke Street was open for skiing for 107 days during the 2001 ski season. We estimate that without snowmaking Bourke Street would have been open for 27 days only.
In 2010 we had a record snowmaking year and created approximately 212 Olympic Swimming pools of snow!