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
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.
Snow gun Arsenal: 1,700 (500 low energy guns)
Miles of Pipe: 88
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!
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!
Blue Mountain Resort
Snow gun Arsenal: 1,382
Miles of Pipe: A LOT
Source: Blue Mountain Resort
Another resort in PA that won’t let ma’ nature ruin the fun is Blue Mountain Resort. Located in the northern part of the Lehigh Valley, they boast the highest vertical in the state with a whopping 1,082′ vertical drop. To make sure all their terrain is open as quickly as possible, they have a big arsenal of snowguns. While 1,382+ guns might not seem like a lot, combine that with covering their 164 acres of terrain and that’s BIG! Their wintry weaponry consists of:
- 1,000 pole mounted guns
- 40 full auto fans
- 328 full auto stick guns
- 14 movable fan guns
Snow gun Arsenal: 1,000
Miles of Pipe: 60
Source: Pittsburgh Post- Gazette
Over the past few seasons, Seven Springs has been very fortunate on the amount of real snow they received. In fact, the 2014-15 season was so good they actually were the FIRST ski resort in the East to host the Snowboarder’s Superpark. As most of us know in a normal winter, the East can have some “challenging” weather, and as such, you better have great snowmaking. Under ideal conditions, Seven Springs’ patented system can pump 30,120 gallons of water per minute through its 856 snow towers, and within five hours, cover 54 acres with one foot of snow. They don’t rest on their snowmaking laurels either. For example, in 2010 they replaced the diesel compressors which used over 100,000 gallons of fuel with energy efficient electric compressors. Bottom line… if the the weather cooperates and the temps drop, they can open a LOT of their terrain quickly & efficiently.
Snow gun Arsenal: 578
Miles of Pipe: 38
Source: Idaho Mountain Express
America’s first ski resort has amazing terrain, but sometimes the snow just doesn’t want to fall. Being in the high-desert and on the southern edge of Idaho’s mountainous interior, this makes them on average receive only 220 inches of the good stuff. That means you better be good at making it too, and Sun Valley is one of the best out there. It’s not just about the size of the arsenal though, but how new the equipment is. The older the snow gun, the smaller the snow crystal. It’s like the difference between a bucket of sand and a bucket of gravel. Translation: Newer guns equals better quality snow. And since 2014, Sun Valley replaced over 282 of their guns.
Snow gun Arsenal: 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 push of a button.
Snow gun Arsenal: 380
Miles of Pipe: It’s a secret… but they can cover 540 acres of terrain
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.
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
Snow gun Arsenal: 200+
Miles of Pipe: 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!