When the snowmakers crank the guns for the first snowmaking test of the season, the excitement is contagious around the resort. After yesterday morning’s snow system test, I was able to track down Will Bastian, our Snowmaking Operations Manager, to get the scoop on the day-to-day for his crew.
As an aside, our snowmaking team takes some pretty incredible photos as proof of their round-the-clock efforts, which are featured throughout this post. Thanks, guys!
When do you start getting ready?
We’re always getting ready. If we’re not making snow, we are preparing to make snow. The pressure really starts in September.
What’s the benefit of doing a snowmaking test?
There’s a few. It helps us to find any bugs in the system, make sure everything’s ready to rock and roll, and gets people excited for ski season.
What’s the earliest we’ve ever tested the snow guns?
Last year, we were able to make snow on September 19. The temperatures fell to 28 degrees, so the snow stuck. Our goal is always mid-September. The earliest that we’ve ever opened, since I’ve worked here, is October 14. That’s right around the corner. [Sunday River typically opens on our around Halloween.]
How do you know when it’s time to make snow?
As soon as it starts getting cold and there’s a chill in the air, so to speak. The ideal temperature is 28 degrees on the wet bulb [the lowest temperature that can be reached by evaporating water into the air]. That means we can make snow once it’s about 34 degrees, but it all depends on the humidity levels.
What are the ideal conditions?
For temperature, it’s in the single digit to teen range, and we always look for no wind and clear skies.
What do snowmakers wear on a typical day?
We bring a lot of clothes with us, because you do get wet. It’s similar to what you would wear for skiing, but a lot lighter. You’re doing so much physical activity—constantly hiking, carrying heavy things—it helps to have lightweight gear. For protective equipment, snowmakers wear a hard hat, ear muffs, a head lamp, safety glasses, and hard plastic mountaineering boots.
How do you see at night?
We use head lamps, snow mobile headlights, and when there’s a clear night and a full moon that helps a lot.
What kinds of hours do you work?
We work nonstop. In the beginning of the season, it’s at least 12-hour shifts, six or seven days a week. As we are able to implement three shifts, it’s eight- or nine-hour days. No one really gets a true day off for the first few weeks.
What’s your favorite shift?
It’s a toss-up between first and third shift. During first shift, you see the direct impact you have on people’s day. They ski by and give you high-fives or holler from the lifts. It’s the best feeling to get a “thank you” from a guest. For third shift, you’re out in the middle of the night, on your own, doing your thing, and that’s when we’re really able to crank out the most snow. It’s when it’s coldest and quieter than a busy day on-hill. You also get to watch the sun rise.
How many people at Sunday River work in snowmaking?
Including pump operators, we have about 60 people. On-hill, we have about 45. My goal is always to have 15 people per shift, and two to three pump men.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you out there?
No comment! Just kidding. I asked the team this question, because they experience so much out there. I will say that last year there was a bear 50 yards from one of the snowmakers. We had to call her and tell her to stay where she was until he lumbered off in the other direction. It’s always an adventure.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
The job itself—the idea of making snow—is amazing. When you get out there, turn the gun on, and actually watch the snow coming out, you realize that you’re creating the terrain. You build something that people really enjoy. The best part is having a direct impact on something as fun as skiing.
What’s your favorite trail to make snow on and why?
Definitely Shockwave. It comes down to the terrain, because of the steepness and the challenge. It creates one of my favorite trails to snowboard.
How many guns can you have running at one time?
Depending on weather, we can run 150 to 200 guns. It really sets us apart from other resorts. As they say, we have the most dependable snow in New England.
Do you have an overall plan for where you make snow and where you’ll go next at the resort? Why?
Yes. We usually start early season at the middle of the mountain because we have the mid-station on the Locke Mountain Triple. We expand from there to Barker and the other trails off of the triple. We then move toward getting ski-in/ski-out access at the hotels on White Cap and Jordan Bowl. Then we fill in the gaps, moving back toward South Ridge.
What’s your favorite gun?
The HKD Method, a low-energy tower gun that can be found in the T72 and 3D parks. They have a really interesting design and they put out a lot of snow. When they are fully cranked, they can put out over 100 gallons of water per minute.