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Automated Snowmaking

deadheadskier

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The snowmaking equipment manufacturers must be reading all the negative press and boosting R&D on automated snowmaking systems right about now no?

If you could perfect the product, make it respectably affordable and resorts used it to capacity, that's kinda the dream of the Eastern skier. Beyond the real thing of course. A system that can turn on as many guns as possible the moment the right conditions allow and adjust for things like humidity, wind speed and direction.

That just seems the more realistic way of the future. Instead of having a full on manual systems needing many bodies working horrible schedules in bad conditions; find a way to have a high tech automated system that is run by a small team of really more of a field service engineer type role. Full time year round jobs that pay really well and have full responsibility for system maintenance. Plenty of hard, manual work still involved, but they aren't logging 4PM to 6AM shifts hooking up hoses and turning valves on the side of a mountain at -5 three nights straight for an hourly wage with no benefits. Field Service Engineers in the medical industry can make $65-100k+ easily. Same kinda skill set of what I'm envisioning. A career, not a seasonal job.
 

deadheadskier

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FTR I do know automation exists. It's just not widespread and I assume because of cost.
 

Kingslug20

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Buildings such as the ones I ran have not reached this form of automation yet...they probably could at some point..we started up and ran the hvac systems and made the same type of decisions according to weather.
At some point in the future i imagine snowmaking could be automated. The piping would have to be set in place..guns all set up permanently..then a bms system would decide what would turn on based on enthalpy with someone to moniter it.
Maintenance would still be needed though..
That requires...us.
 

Kingslug20

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In our case the FDNY requires a licensed engineer to run hvac systems above a certain size..
 

foofy

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Maine Calling program on NPR today was about the current state of the Maine ski industry. The Sunday River rep mentioned they are starting to put in some automation to be able to quickly turn on/off the snowmaking as conditions change.
 

Bosco DaSkia

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Sugarbush had excellent automated snowmaking from both york and snomatic. They worked great. I could run the whole operation from the start up to shut down from the control room. However, they were potentiometer-based, which means they needed regular calibration in order to work properly.

They never bothered to do the seasonal maintenance needed because they didn’t want to keep a snow maker on you around. So, after a few years, They ended up ripping out all of the automation and going back to manual. Upfront costs are one thing, but if you’re not willing to spend what it takes to do the upkeep required to keep the system operational, you will not have an operational system for a long.
 

deadheadskier

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Sugarbush had excellent automated snowmaking from both york and snomatic. They worked great. I could run the whole operation from the start up to shut down from the control room. However, they were potentiometer-based, which means they needed regular calibration in order to work properly.

They never bothered to do the seasonal maintenance needed because they didn’t want to keep a snow maker on you around. So, after a few years, They ended up ripping out all of the automation and going back to manual. Upfront costs are one thing, but if you’re not willing to spend what it takes to do the upkeep required to keep the system operational, you will not have an operational system for a long.

That's what I'm saying. It's so important to the product. Make it a year round gig where guys are doing a lot of the maintenance outside in the off season and mainly running it from indoors in winter. I know some lift maintenance guys at larger areas can have year round responsibilities. How often does that occur with snowmakers?
 

IceEidolon

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Also, $10k per auto stick plus power adds up quick. It's pulling teeth to get some resorts just to put up permanent low energy towers instead of Impulse sleds or air hogs. A stationary gun might run for 100 hours a year, less if you're up north or it's a small trail, where you can run a portable tower on anything that isn't super steep every night.

Places with a lot of fans are in a better spot to automate piece-by-piece, and if HKD can make a solar/thermocouple/compressed air powered Klik system they can skip a huge infrastructure commitment and just hook into most any existing line, but for a lot of places right now it's just a bridge too far. Just adding 36 auto sticks would cost $360k plus labor and site work, which would pay for two snowmakers at $20k/season for nine years. Hard to sell it to the bean counters when manual low E towers are only $5k.
 

IceEidolon

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Holiday has it figured out. They're a model of how to build a good auto system - the biggest sticking points are manual valves in the pumphouses and manual compressors. Once the valves are set and compressors warmed up, they can go from zero to full throttle as fast as the pumps can spool.
 

Kingslug20

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In Europe they have developed a system that works in a vacuum enabeling snowmaking in high temps..then they truck the snow around the resort...its a 30 ton machine and probably costs a fortune...but it makes snow when others cant.
These days if you cant make snow you...go out of business. .mother nature doesnt like the east coast these days
 

AdironRider

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Holiday also benefits from basically not having to deal with an alpine environment and the variability that presents.

I’m a bean counter and I don’t see how a system like this wouldn’t cost at least quadruple a low e with seasonal worker setup like most operations currently use. Maybe for a major to keep the base and a few major runs open (ala Killington) it makes sense but otherwise I can’t see it pencil.
 

deadheadskier

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Well I guess that's my point. Can the manufacturers bring an affordable automated system to market? Plenty of tech has gotten much cheaper over time. Like in my line of work as an example. A well configured ICU monitor in 2005 would cost about $30k. Today you can buy something much more capable for $20k. Even what is considered a low acuity monitor at $10k today is more advanced than a $30k ICU monitor from 2005 vintage.

So, say the same trajectory of cost gets applied to those auto stick that now costs $10k and companies produce something for $6k. How does that change the math where automation ROI makes more sense than more labor?
 
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Bosco DaSkia

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It has absolutely nothing to do with labor cost, and the cost of labor is minuscule in comparison to the energy cost during production.

This is about being able to make enough quality snow in an ever decreasing windows of opportunity. Holiday Valley can make serious production within a six hour weather window. That is simply not possible with a manual system. The labor savings is just a very nice bonus that speeds system payback.

These are the type investments that are going to be needed if ski areas want to survive in the climate that we have now, let alone the future.

 

kendo

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In Europe they have developed a system that works in a vacuum enabeling snowmaking in high temps..then they truck the snow around the resort...its a 30 ton machine and probably costs a fortune...but it makes snow when others cant.
These days if you cant make snow you...go out of business. .mother nature doesnt like the east coast these days


SnowFactory by TechnoAlpin.

Makes high quality snow at marginal temps, ensures the ability to open more runs early season, allows quick recovery during mid season thaws and extends the season into spring by replacing base area melt out.

 
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Newpylong

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As has been mentioned, there are two main issues: build out and ongoing maintenance costs. Until both (especially the build out) costs come down drastically (we're talking an order of magnitude), the ROI is too far out. Over the long run it's cheaper to have your ground pounders at the top of the run, the lines charged, ready to go turn equipment on. I've watched Killington's crew turn on a 50 gun trail in about an hour. That's compared to a couple minutes for an automated system. Obviously there is set up time if the guns aren't fixed, but we're just talking about taking advantage of snowmaking windows efficiently.

Ragged had a run off each peak automated (York/Johnson Controls/TA) and it is very good equipment. But like others, they decided to not maintain it and it is manual now.

To really become automated, you not only need the pump and air plant automated, but all of the valve houses need to also be automated, the line bleeds automated, along with the on hill equipment. That is a serious endeavor, especially when many trails around here are "one and done".

I could see automation being deployed on some core trails in the Northeast, but that's about it unless the build out is from scratch. An HKD Impulse is $3300-4000 a piece depending on configuration, it's hard to beat just slapping those everywhere when you have hundreds to do. Moving to fixed (but manual) equipment from portable is already a massive time saver. We've seen places like Sunday River (fixed gear on many trails) blow Killington (portable on many trails) out of the water on expansion this year when labor is a serious issue.
 
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