First Timers' Guide
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Mt Buller is proud of its 'snow guarantee' promising more snow – right where you want it!
Mt Buller can make snow on many of the resort’s most popular runs, including Bourke Street, Little Buller Spur and Wombat, the Summit area, Chamois, Burnt Hut Spur, Shakey Knees, Men's Downhill and Standard.
Snowmaking ‘guns’ copy nature to convert water into snow. When water is sprayed at high pressure out a narrow ‘gun’ nozzle into cold air the tiny droplets freeze – similar to what happens when moisture hits cold enough air naturally.
What temperatures are suitable?
Using traditional air/water systems, a wet bulb temperature of -2C or below is generally needed for snowmaking. The wet bulb temperature is a combination of ambient air temperature and humidity. Snow can be made at higher ambient temperatures if the humidity is low. Clear, crisp conditions are when you’ll often notice the snowmaking system is cranking up here!
What about water?
Mt Buller has two large water storage reservoirs on the upper mountain that support snowmaking. The snowmaking dam located next to the Snowflake Factory at the top of Baldy can hold 70 megalitres. The reservoir is filled from the Boggy Creek catchment area at a continual rate of 35 litres per second. In 2019-2020 a new additional water storage – the Boggy Creek Reservoir - was built adding 100megalitres to the resort supply, some of which is pumped across and used to help snowmaking.
Buller Ski Lifts continues to invest in snowmaking around the resort to give skiers and snowboarders confidence of cover on their favourite runs. BSL has also boosted pumping capacity to move all this water efficiently. At full operation with all guns working the network can produce snow at a staggering rate of 600 litres per second across the mountain.
Different snowmaking equipment
There are two basic methods (and one 'not-so-basic' method) for snowmaking in operation at ski areas worldwide.
The older technology is using large compressors and air/water guns. This air/water technology is costly to install, very costly to operate and tends to be noisy. However the guns are small and compact, making them nimble to move and easier to set up on steep slopes. These guns work well on narrow trails and are less affected by wind or ice.
The newer technology uses electric fan snowmakers. The worldwide trend is toward fan systems due to less capital cost, reduced operating costs and less noise. However the fans are much more difficult to move around and are affected by wind and ice particularly in exposed areas. You’ll see these large fan guns on Bourke Street.
Then there are "Snowfactories" This amazing technology can…
…make snow at any time, any temperature
Buller Ski Lifts and Mt Buller Mt Stirling Resort Management added an innovative Techno Alpin SF220 “Snowfactory” to the snowmaking arsenal in 2017.
It was such a success it prompted investment in a smaller mobile factory – the SF100 – in 2019. Then another two for winter 2022. These Snowfactories can continuously produce snow 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can do so at temperatures well above freezing. These four snowmaking factories collectively can make 520 cubic metres of snow daily at 15 degrees Celsius.
In 2017 Mt Buller ran the newly installed Snowfactory continuously from the end of April to guarantee skiing ahead of the official ski season opening on the June Queen's Birthday Weekend. This is now part of normal season preparation and allows guests to book and plan a visit from the very start of the season with confidence they can get in some turns on Day 1!
Here's Mt Buller Snow Reporter David Clark with 3AW Breakfast Host Ross Stevenson on a tour inside the Snowfactory back when it just landed in 2017:
Machine-made snow is generally made wetter than fresh natural snow. Why? It lasts longer, holds up better, resists blowing away, grooms out more easily and is the most efficient to make. Wetter snow is a good use of water and energy because more snow can be made with the same resources and last longer than light, dry snow. Freshly made snow can be ‘sticky’ under your skis and boards so if you see a snowmaking ‘whale’ (those piles of freshly made snow before they are groomed out) be careful as it can suddenly slow your slide!
Mt Buller's Snowmaking System
Snowmaking started at Buller back in the 1970s (by a few guys wearing corduroy flares) who established a pilot system on Enzian Ski Run. It was later moved to Bourke Street. The main snowmaking infrastructure was then installed (by a few guys in acid wash jeans) in 1994 at the Snowflake Factory on the top of Baldy.
This included the water storage reservoir, air compressors, pump station and distribution pipelines for water and compressed air. The snowmaking system infrastructure and distribution pipelines were designed and built to allow for expansion as the terrain supported by snowmaking was forecast to grow.
Mount Buller led the way in Australian snowmaking systems installing a combination system of fan and air/water guns. The system is based around a central high level water storage reservoir, pump station and central air compressor station. Large pipelines deliver the water and compressed air to where it’s needed around the ski area. We operate a combination of air/water guns and fan guns, as well as the Snowfactory (all-weather snowmaking plant). During 2021-22 summer season many of the major underground pipes on the upper mountain were replaced and repaired to future proof the network and address some aging pipes and leaks.
The coverage of snowmaking at Mt Buller currently includes:
Total ski able area of snowmaking: Over 56 hectares - which is approximately 20% of our skiable terrain and marked trails.
There are three weather stations constantly monitoring the temperature and humidity at various locations around the mountain. This data is collected every 10 minutes and fed to a central storage computer situated in the snowmaking control room. The system includes increasing automation with some of the newer guns able to turn on as soon as conditions are correct – and switch off if the temperatures rise.
Effects of snowmaking
Simply, snowmaking promises more skiing, boarding, tobogganing and sliding of all sorts for more days each snow season. The huge investment and ongoing improvements to the snowmaking system gives skiers confidence they can get on snow from June through to October. Snowmaking means Mt Buller is often the first resort in Australia to get skiing each season, and the last to close. It makes the Mt Buller Snow Guarantee possible.
Care for the snow
As you can see, a lot of work, water, energy and time goes into making snow each season. As a snow lover you can help protect the snow and do your part.
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