Who puts the “king” in snowmaking?

With ski areas starting to open all across North America, early season is upon us. We all hope as skiers and snowboarders that cold storms hit our home resort but that’s more the exception than the norm. If you have the cash, a trip to one of the resorts we talked about in our best bets for Thanksgiving skiing is a great option. For many of us though, that isn’t possible… so what should you do? Instead of staying home twiddling your thumbs and missing out on all the snowy fun, head to a resort that is endowed in the snowmaking variety. Ever wonder how the largest snowmaking systems in North America compare?

Largest snowmaking systems in North America

largest snowmaking systems in North America Sunday River Maine snow guns shooting snow

When weather doesn’t cooperate, Sunday River makes Winter happen – Image taken by: Herb Coolidge

Sunday River

largest snowmaking systems in North America Sunday River Maine

The slopes of Sunday River Maine – Image taken by: Natalia Radziejewska

Snow gun Arsenal: 2,000+

Miles of Pipe: 80

Source: Sunday River

In the last ten years, Sunday River has spent over $7 million in new snow guns alone. In addition to an enormous arsenal at the ready, they’re blessed to be located near the bottom of a huge watershed with nearly 43 square miles of drainage. This gives them access to a water source that naturally gets replenished: The Sunday River. Their system can pump 8,100 gallons per minute directly from the river to their snow guns at the resort.

Killington

Snowmaking in October – Image taken by Will Humber

Snow gun arsenal: 1,700 (500 low energy guns)

Miles of Pipe: 88

Source: Killington

A list of the largest snowmaking systems wouldn’t be complete without the Beast of the East. When conditions are at their best, in ONLY an hours’ time, Killington can pump more than 720,000 gallons of water to 240 snow guns. This can cover 80 acres with 12 inches of fresh snow!

Hunter Mountain

largest snowmaking system in North America Hunter Mountain New York snowmaking

Ski Patrol checking out the quality of the freshly made snow on Hunter Mountain – Image taken by: Ben Helmer

Snow gun Arsenal: 1,100

Mile of Pipe: 60

Source: On the Snow

Another big player in the game is Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. The Catskill resort became the first ski area in the world to have 100 percent snowmaking coverage on its trails in 1980. They continue to invest not just in snow guns but their entire infrastructure. By replacing their original 60+ year old air compressor, they now have enough air and water available to run half of the snowmaking guns at once under marginal weather conditions. In fact, they can pump 43 gallons per minute per acre… that translates to covering 1 acre with 1 foot of snow per hour!

Snowbasin

Snow guns: 540

Miles of Pipe: 15

Source: On the Snow

Of course, the East Coast is home to the largest snowmaking systems, but the ones out West are nothing to sneeze at. Snowbasin is a great example. With the Salt Lake City Olympics, they needed to ensure there was white stuff on the ground to ski on. So, they installed one of the largest networks west of the Mississippi AND made it 100% computer automated. This means they can take advantage of the weather at the drop of a hat.

Breckenridge

largest snowmaking systems in North America Breckenridge

Breckenridge snow cannon – Image taken by: Josh Cooley

Snow guns: 380

Miles of Pipe: It’s a secret… but they can cover 540 acres of terrain

Source: Vail Resorts Blog, Ultimate-Ski.com

Ensuring that the quality of conditions is up to snuff at one of the busiest ski destinations in North America, the key is happy return customers. Vail Resorts continues to do this by investing in their system and installing over a mile of new pipe on Lost Horizon and Barton Breezeway trails on Peak 6. This was critical to get the popular area open in the early season regardless of natural snowfall.

Whistler Blackcomb

largest snowmaking systems in North America Whistler British Columbia snow guns shooting snow

Whistler’s guns laying down the white stuff – Image taken by: Jorge Alavarez

Snow gun arsenal: 280

Miles of Pipe: Who knows… but they can cover up to 900 acres

Source: Whistler Insider

For anyone that has been to Whistler, you know that their 5,280 vertical feet can sometimes have crazy weather. It can be snowing up top while raining at the bottom, so having snowmaking is key. Similar to Snowbasin, Whistler invested over $20 million out of the company’s $60 million investment in snowmaking for their Olympic Games. Their fleet gives them the capability to make snow from the glacier summits right to the valley floor. In fact, they can cover up to 900 acres of their terrain with up to a foot of snow.

Heavenly Mountain Resort

largest snowmaking systems in North America Heavenly Mountain Resort South Lake Tahoe California

Image taken by: Local Freshies

Snow Guns: 200+

Miles of Pipeline: Take a guess… but they can blow snow on 70% of the marked trails

Source: Roots Rated

What is dubbed the largest snowmaking system on the West Coast, they typically make on average over 120 inches of snow each season. At peak capacity, Heavenly can cover a football field with 2 feet of snow in a ten hour shift. This is another resort that can fully automate over 65 of their fan guns so when conditions are perfect, it will run itself. Talk about a great combination!

It’s understandable that ski resorts out West, focused more on the natural pow, aren’t as big about toting their arsenals as the ones out East. Is there a ski area we missed that should be on the list?

Let’s hope for a big winter, but if it’s a slow start to the season, at least you now know which ones have a large system as a backup plan.

14 thoughts on “Who puts the “king” in snowmaking?

  1. With 164 ski-able acres and well over 1000 manual guns ,328 automatic stick guns ,40 auto fan guns ,10 portable fan guns, 55, 000 cfm and 14,000 gpm I believe Blue Mountain Resorts in Palmerton Pa. should be listed in this article.

    1. Thanks Bob! Will be sure to add them in our 2018 edition. Love that you provided me with some awesome facts and glad that you checked out the article.

  2. What? No Copper Mountain? Where do you think all the pros have been training before all these trails where open?

    1. Hey Marc,

      I agree but both Keystone and Copper have great snowmaking but there isn’t any data regarding their arsenal of snowguns. I’ll keep trying to bug ’em but call out!

  3. Definitely look into Seven Springs, pretty sure their system is hardcore.

    Also the picture of the “Breckenridge Snow cannon” is most definitely not at Breck, we do not run those guns.

    1. Sick! Appreciate the feedback and providing some hints for next year’s post. So crazy that the person I got the photo from incorrectly posted that image is from Breck. I’ll update accordingly. Thanks for catching that.

  4. Stratton. It’s all about quality here. It’s about pride in the work & love for the mountain. Snowmaking in southern VT at its finest. Our snowmaking team is beyond compare. Some have been making snow together for decades, many have 10+ seasons on the mountain, & very few have less than 3. Almost everyone has a very long term relationship w/ the mountain of some kind. Result: a plethora of intimate knowledge of all things specific to Stratton -water/air systems, the snow gun arsenal, weather anomalies, microclimates, , terrain, etc. We have the water. We have the guns- over 1200 of them, & we know right where to put them & exactly when. When to wait it out & when to throw it down. When temps drop into the sweet spot, “Strattons snowmakers can cover Boston’s Fenway Park one foot deep in under 20 min & the entire 670 acres of Stratton Mountain one foot deep in less than a week (skivermont.com). The end result is the highest quality snow conditions you can find that Mother Nature did not provide.

    1. Heck yeah! Thanks RCS! Love the feedback. With your feedback my 2018 article is going to be the best its ever been. Thanks again for posting some feedback.

    1. Hi Thomas,

      Will do! Looks like I have a TON of emails to send out and see if I can get them to give me some stats. Incredibly tough to get the West Coast resorts to give info like that. Thanks again.

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