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Mt Buller resort boasts a network of 244 guns to top up cover across the slopes and ensure more skiing days each winter, plus the new Techno Alpin SF220 Snowfactory in 2017.
In 2016 eleven new fully automatic DB6 snow guns came online completing the automation of all the high pressure guns. This additional investment extends snowmaking to the bottom section of The Chute and tops up coverage on key runs including Wombat, Shakey Knees and Family Run. Mt Buller has the largest snowmaking system in Victoria boosting the snow cover across 71ha of key ski runs. On average our snowmakers create a staggering 530,000 cubic metres of snow in a season ensuring better cover and more skiing.
When conditions allow, Mt Buller has machines ready to make snow across many of your favourite runs, including Bourke Street, Little Buller Spur, the Summit area, Chamois and northern runs including Burnt Hut Spur.
Snowmaking machines replicate nature by converting water into snow. When water is sprayed through a snowmaking hose it is separated into small particles. A nucleating agent is added and the water particles are then cooled by projecting them through the cold air.
What temperatures are suitable?
Using traditional 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.
What is nucleation?
Nucleation is the creation of small ice crystals to seed the bulk water droplets. Snowmaking machines are fitted with one or more nucleating nozzles that use compressed air to breakdown and freeze water particles into tiny ice crystals. The ice crystals act as a nucleator, which initiate the freezing process when introduced into the stream of water particles from the other nozzles. Other nucleators, such as Snomax, can be added to assist the freezing process.
What is Snomax?
Snowmax is a natural source of ice nucleating protein that induces the formation of snow crystals. These proteins are commonly present in bacteria found on plant surfaces. Scientists have identified and purified the bacteria that produces the proteins. Environmental studies show this protein breaks down within a month of being in the soil.
Our water storage reservoir is located next to our Snowflake Factory at the top of Baldy. This reservoir has a capacity of 70 million litres. The reservoir is filled from the Boggy Creek catchment area at a continual rate of 35 litres per second.
Large quantities of water are required in the snowmaking process, for example to cover an area of 100 meters by 100 meters with 300mm of snow, you would need 3000 cubic meters of snow. This is 1.3 mega litres of water. With cold temperatures, the Mount Buller system can convert 720,000 litres of water to snow every hour.
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 noisy. However the guns are small and compact, making them easier to move and easier to set up on steep slopes. The guns also 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.
Then there's the "Snowfactory"...
Buller Ski Lifts, with support from Mt Buller Mt Stirling Resort Management, has added an innovative Techno Alpin SF 220 “Snowfactory” to its already hefty snowmaking arsenal for the 2017 snow season. The new Snowfactory can continuously produce snow 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can do so at temperatures well above freezing. It is capable of generating 220 cubic metres of snow daily at 15 degrees Celsius.
In 2017 Mt Buller ran the Snowfactory continuously from the end of April to guarantee skiing ahead of the official ski season opening on the June Queen's Birthday Weekend. No other resort in Australia can promise skiing and boarding from opening to closing weekend (1 October 2017).
Here's Mt Buller Snow Reporter David Clark with 3AW Breakfast Host Ross Stevenson on a tour inside the Snowfactory:
Machine-made snow is made wetter than fresh natural snow. Why? It last longer, holds up better, resists blowing away, grooms easier and is the most efficient to make. Wetter snow is more efficient because more snow can be made with the same amount of equipment, the same amount of horsepower and the same number of staff.
Mt Buller's Snowmaking System
Snowmaking began on Mount Buller in the 1970s with a pilot system on Enzian Ski Run, which was later moved to Bourke Street. Our main snowmaking infrastructure was installed 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 accommodate future increases in capacity as coverage areas are increased.
Mount Buller led the way in Australian snowmaking systems by installing a combination system of fan and air/water guns. The snowmaking system is based around a central high level water storage reservoir, pump station and central air compressor station. Large distribution pipelines deliver the water and compressed air to the various ski runs. Water and compressed air delivery hydrants are located down the edge of the runs where the snow guns are coupled using flexible snowmaking hoses. We operate a combination of air/water guns and fan guns, as well as the Snowfactory (all-weather snowmaking plant).
The present coverage of snowmaking at Mt Buller includes:
Total ski able area of snowmaking: Over 78 hectares - which is approximately 25% 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 can be set to call out the snowmakers as the temperatures drop.
Effects of snowmaking
Snowmaking has done a lot to increase the reliability and standard of skiing at Mount Buller. Despite low natural snowfall in June 2015, skiers and snowboarders were on the slopes from day one of the season. We estimate our snowmaking team made close to 40 Olympic sized swimming pools of snow in just 2 weeks during this period.
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