MASSANUTTEN, Va. (WAVY) – Snow is exciting for many of us, as it’s not that often flakes fly from the sky.
On average, Hampton Roads see around six inches of snow annually. Out in the mountains of Virginia, it’s only about a foot more. So with little help from nature, the slopes to our west turn to science.
“The goal is to provide a skiing surface for the guests,” said Jesse Reist, snowmaking manager at Massanutten Resort. “We make snow just like snow falls from the sky, just in a different shape and pattern from the traditional snowflake.”
Snowmaking is more than just spraying water into the air. It’s a delicate balance of several variables, most notably, the relationship between the air temperature and the humidity – this is known as the wet bulb temperature.
When water evaporates into the air, it cools to a new temperature – that new value is the wet bulb temperature. In order to create snow, the wet bulb temperature must be at or below 27°F.
“We always try to maximize our pumping capacity based on the temperature,” Reist said. “The temperature is always changing, therefore we always have to change with it.”
As the water is sprayed into the air, the size of the water droplets play a big role in how efficiently they’re converted to ice. If the water droplets are too big, the freezing process will take too long. If the water droplets are too small, they’ll completely evaporate into the air.
So with just the right sized droplets spraying into the air, it gets just a touch more complicated. In order to effectively initiate the freezing process, the temperature of each water droplet must drop rapidly and dramatically, considering the water being sprayed into the air is only airborne for a short period of time.
High-pressured air blasts the water within resorts’ snow guns. When the water then quickly expands into the surrounding air, the pressure rapidly drops, and as a result, the temperatures plummet. This allows the water droplets to effectively convert to ice, creating a plume of snow.
All of this makes it possible for places that aren’t that cold (on average) to create canvases of snow to carve.