Gunning for White and Saving Green

There’s nothing skiers enjoy more than fresh snow.

For those times when Mother Nature doesn’t deliver, however, Mount Abram in Oxford County has found the next best thing.

The mountain recently aquired over two dozen airless snow guns. The new guns, manufactured by the Italian company Nivis, can blanket the trails with snow as if it were a winter wonderland while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

“Natural powdered snow is a lot of skiers’ favorite thing because it is so soft and carvable,” said Dave Scanlan, Mount Abram’s general manager. “We found that the snow we’re making with these airless guns gets us closer to that type of experience. All we need is a short window of cold temperatures and we can just bury the mountain in man-made snow.”

Mount Abram was the first mountain in North America to product test these airless snow guns two years ago. Scanlan and his staff used two of them the entire winter and were so blown away with the results that they invested in a fleet of 25 guns the following year, thanks to a 50% matching grant from Efficiency Maine under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program.

“We were able to test them in various locations and in different temperatures on the mountain and were extremely impressed with the quality and quantity,” explained Scanlan. “We find the shape of the snow particle that’s made from these airless snow guns to be a lot better texture than the snow we can make from the other snow guns we have. It really does produce a great quality surface.”

Scanlan said most snowmaking operations use snow guns with high pressure water systems that mix with high pressure air. As both go into a typical snowmaking gun, the machine is able to break up the water molecules small enough to freeze them in the air so they fall as snow. The Nivis guns, however, use absolutely no compressed air so no electrical energy is needed.

“The act of generating all the compressed air required to run snow making systems is extremely intensive,” he said. “A lot of the smaller mountains end up renting diesel air compressors. Before we had these new efficient snow guns, we’d burn 40 gallons of diesel an hour to make snow. The cost of that diesel and the carbon emission and everything that goes along with it is a really large number.”

Scanlan doesn’t want Mount Abram to be the only ski area benefitting from this new technology. He’s now in the process of developing an airless snow gun leasing program to help get the guns in the hands of other mountains.

“They typically cost around $5,000 per snow gun,” he said. “Every mountain that tries them is interested in acquiring them but the capital can be really hard to come by. We’re in the early stages of rolling out a snow gun leasing program because we believe in the positive environmental impact it can bring to the ski business and the efficiency it’ll bring to people’s operations.”

The leasing program would allow mountains to try out these guns for the first three months of the season and offer them attractive leasing terms if they want to continue, explained Scanlan.

“We see it as a real opportunity to help spread this technology and help the environment as well.”

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