Making Snow and Saving Energy

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ELK MOUNTAIN -- A ski resort in Susquehanna County makes snow while staying energy efficient.

Running a ski resort is an expensive venture. Resorts such as Elk Mountain have to find ways to provide the top-quality conditions that skiers and riders expect while also keeping the resort profitable.

"It's all little things but they all added up," said Elk's general manager Gregg Confer.

Cooling the air and water used for snowmaking is one of those things.

Another is purchasing new snowmaking equipment. Combined, they have a big impact on both cost and efficiency.

"If we can drop our water temperature by five degrees and increase our efficiency by 10 to 15 percent, that makes a significant difference for us," Confer explained.

Recent snow has done wonders to stack up the base but at the start of the season, Elk Mountain uses artificial snow to get the season off the ground.

The snow is made with compressed air and high-pressure water pushed out through a snow gun. There are two types of snow guns: airless or fan guns, and air-water guns.

Newer snow guns use significantly less compressed air which is the most expensive part of snowmaking, according to members of the Elk Mountain operations team.

"Now we can produce great quality snow using a lot more water and a lot less air which is the ultimate goal," said mountain manager Chris Weldon.

A fire in 1999 destroyed the Elk Mountain compressor room. Since then, the focus has been on efficiency. All these "little things" Elk has done have added up to a 30 percent cost savings.

"The payback is they can make a lot of snow at a very low cost of energy," Weldon said.