|The International Olympic Committee breathed a sigh of relief this
week. It snowed in the mountains above Salt Lake City, giving hope
that the ski slopes will be ready for the 2002 Winter Olympics in
February. Just in case they're not, however, the Committee requires
that Winter Olympic sites be prepared with backup equipment to make snow
artificially. (The kind made from water, not the kind in the bag pictured
above, which comes from a taxidermy supply firm and is used in window displays
and the like.)
Winter sports are big business, but the natural snowfall on which they depend is unpredictable in most places and so, in recent decades, snowmaking technology has become standard equipment at most ski resorts around the world. The original process for making snow was developed accidentally in the late 1940s by Canadian researchers who were studying icing on jet engine intakes. Although they regarded the snow largely as a nuisance and didn't file any patents, they did publish their research and the publication later helped to decide the outcome of a lawsuit between two firms contesting the rights to the patent for a commercial snowmaking technology.
Snow is made when tiny water droplets are exposed to cold air and crystallize as they fall to the ground. Today's snowmaking machines use several different techniques. One popular type of snow gun blows out a fine mist of water droplets mixed with compressed air. Others atomize the water (break up the stream into tiny droplets) with nozzles and high speed fans. Many ski slopes put their nozzles on towers to allow the snow more time to crystallize and to allow it to fall more naturally. In recent years, a growing number of resorts have been using a protein (trade-named "Snowmax") derived from a type of bacteria as a nucleating agent. This protein is added to the water and makes the droplets crystallize more readily, thus producing more snow for a given amount of water. Snowmaking technology is one instance in which the old adage, "If you don't like the weather, just do something about it," can be more than a stale joke.
= highly recommended
Tom Harris, "How Snow Makers Work," on Marshall Brain's How Stuff Works. A great place to start in learning about snowmaking technology.
"Snowmaking: Everything you ever wanted to know about how and why ski resorts make snow." Big blocks of text and no graphics, but lots of information. From American Skiing Company, which operates many well-known ski resorts.
"Who Invented the Snow Making Machine?" on About.com. Details of the story mentioned briefly above.
The Lenko Company, manufacturers of snowmaking machines, based in Sweden.
"Man-Made Snow," by Rich Brown, Scientific American (January 1997). Brown is general manager of Snowmax, and the article is largely about this product.
"Snow Making Technology," by Victor Raguso, section 11.3.3 of The Alpine Education Guidebook (Book 2, "The Guidebook for Coaches and Officials"). For ski racers and the technically-inclined.
The Buffalo (New York) Ski Club page on snow making, with several nice photos.
What would the International Antarctic Centre (in Christchurch, New Zealand) be without snow? They've got the only New Zealand franchise from an Australian firm to make snow using water and liquid nitrogen.
Snowmaking can work indoors, in hot climates, and in the summer. Snow City in Singapore has it. A Japanese firm showed off its technology in Jakarta, Indonesia. And the Bucceri Company of Australia has installed its system all over the world.
Surprise your neighbors! Be the only one on your block with snow on your lawn! All you need is a personal portable snowmaking machine. You can get one from Backyard Blizzard for only $1,995, plus $154 for shipping (in the continental U.S., electrically-operated, 110 v).
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