Early start for the snowmakers
WHILE the Queen’s Birthday weekend is the official launch of the ski season – for one group of hardy souls the winter started in earnest more than two weeks ago.
The Falls Creek snowmaking crew went on standby in late May.
Early season flurries had started to freeze the ground, now it was a matter of getting the temperature and most importantly the humidity right to flick the switch on the man-made snow.
On a good night, with ready access to the huge water supply in Rocky Valley Lake the Falls Creek system can turn 11 million litres of water into more than double that in cubic metres of snow.
We caught up with mountain operations manager Karl Nowa- kowski late last month.
“The snowmaking team is on the ground and starting production tonight,” he said.
“Initially we will be pumping out the snow and stacking it in mounds so that a couple of days before opening weekend and hopefully with the benefit of a helping hand from Mother Nature we can push it out onto the slopes.
“We will be looking at those runs at the top of Cloud 9 – then Main Street, Drovers and Wombats Ramble.
“The weather has already started to turn – we have had a few dustings and the ground has gone from soft and squishy to hard under foot, almost frozen.”
Nowakowski, in his second year on the mountain, said Falls Creek was blessed with an experienced and dedicated snowmaking team.
“It’s tough work – they are out there late at night, often battling the elements and more often than not working alone,” he said. “They also know their craft. “Snowmaking is as dependent on the humidity as much as it is on the temperature, perhaps more so – even with the temperature above zero they can make snow if the humidity is low.
“Falls Creek is also blessed to have access to a huge body of water in Rocky Valley Lake that other resorts simply don’t have.
“The resort is also fortunate to have some of the best groomers in the country.
“They take great pride in setting up that corduroy finish on the snow for visitors and that comes through expertise and pride in their work.”
MOUNTAIN MADE: Mt Hotham’s operations manager Len Dobell gives the powerful TechnoAlpin snowguns the thumbs up.
A $4.4 million expansion of Mt Hotham’s snowmaking has already sprung to life.
The newly-installed, fully-automated TechnoAlpin snowguns began pumping out snow onto Heavenly Valley almost a fortnight ago.
The major summer project for the Mt Hotham Skiing Company will see six new guns in Heavenly Valley area and a further 12 guns across the system.
And while plans for a further 12 snow cannons on The Summit won’t happen until next summer, those guns will be redeployed across the resort this winter.
The new snowmaking equipment will cover an additional 33ha in the resort – an increase of almost 40 per cent.
It means an additional 288,000 litres of water can be turned into snow each hour.
That equates to some 600 cubic metres, or about 25 dump trucks, of snow.
Mt Hotham skiing Company general manager Belinda Trembath, hailed it as a great day for Hotham skiers and snowboarders.
“For many people, Heavenly Valley is the heart of Mt Hotham,” she said.
“This whole area is now going to be ‘snow sure’ from much earlier in the season.
“We’ll be able to build a base here for all the natural and mountain-made snow to come this season, which should ensure the great terrain in this area skis beautifully right through to the end of the season in late September. “Perhaps even beyond. “The guys here have already started referring to this area as the Hotham Glacier.”
Ms Trembath said the end product was the result of a huge summer.
“Our Mountain Operations team has done a huge amount of work over summer to get us to this point,” she said.
“We’ve carefully installed more than a kilometre of water mains, six new snowmaking outlets, a new pump in our main pumping house, and we are rolling out 18 massive new snow cannons across the system.”
“The expanded snowmaking in Heavenly Valley is part of the final stage of a snowmaking master plan we began in 1998.
“Now we only have The Summit area to go, where we’ll be putting in twelve additional snow cannons ahead of next season.”