"It's not a big scientific thing," explains Snow Creek's manager, David Grenier. "You're just taking plain old water, mixing it with compressed air and projecting it out into a frozen environment, where Mother Nature does the rest." As long as the nights stay cold, that is.
As with all things magical, snow making happens at this skiing and snowboarding oasis about 40 miles northwest of Kansas City while people are sleeping -- with the exception of some touch-up flurries that keep the illusion going throughout the day.
Snow making is easy to understand, but it's not easy to do. Grenier says his crew is made up of hardy souls.
"They need to be in pretty good physical shape as well as be able to endure the extreme weather, because typically, when they're making snow, they're right out in the middle of it," he says. If you stood in the middle of this artificial blizzard for just a few minutes, Grenier adds, you'd be transformed into a snowman.
Shooting pressurized water out of stationary towers at 3,500 gallons a minute, the flake makers project the spray high into the air. If they haphazardly shot water onto the hill, the result would be ice. But because the towers are tall and the water has to travel through cold air before hitting the ground, Snow Creek ends up snowy rather than just slick. The extended hang time makes each Snow Creek snowflake the best snowflake it can be. And dispersing the flakes from many towers keeps the territory covered.
The team started with a scant eighteen machines, all of them mobile, when Snow Creek opened in 1985. "We were spending most of our nights moving them in and moving them out and hooking them up," Grenier recalls. For Snow Creek's grand opening, it took almost a month to blanket the hill.
Now Grenier has nearly three times as many machines, and they can be left in place to do their work simultaneously. "The more the merrier," he says. This season, the runs opened with a 48-inch base -- that's 13 inches more snow than Vail, Colorado, had -- after only three nights and two days of spewing the white stuff. With a little help from some real snow that weekend, Snow Creek had a record turnout, with more than 1,000 skiers and boarders riding the lifts.
Grenier takes pride in churning out so much powder outside what he calls "The Snow Belt." Although Snow Belt slopes can count on heavy annual snows, our area averages only 20 inches a year. But as long as things stay cold, the snow will just keep coming at Snow Creek. When spring drags its feet, there's an extended season for the ski hill. One particularly cold year, Grenier threw down an extra 120 inches of snow -- and got some free publicity.
"I called into all the weather stations and told them where all the snow was," Grenier says, laughing. "Mike Thompson took it hook, line and sinker." But you don't need a weatherman to tell you where the snow blows when '04 slides in.