Fan Guns keep Snow on the Slopes

December 5, 2007 by  
Filed under features

Since 1950, when Dave Richey, Art Hunt and Wayne Pierce designed the first snow gun, also known as a fan gun, this invention has become invaluable to ski resorts and ski areas. One can’t always count on Mother Nature to send snow by a certain date, or to ensure that there is enough snow on the mountains to open the skiing season, so resorts use fan guns to cover the slopes with artificial snow. This allows the resorts to open for skiing and snowboarding earlier than was previously possible.

The basic principle of fan guns is that it pushes water and high pressure air out of the nozzle. When this mixture comes into contact with the natural cold temperatures it turns into snow. What makes the new technology fan guns different from the snow guns, is that it now combines water atomizing nozzles to push the water through a fan that enables the fan gun to distribute the snow across a larger area. Another noteworthy feature is that there are smaller nozzles that also work with the combination of water and compressed air, but forms a wet bulb thermometer temperature, allowing snow to be made anytime during the year.

Of course, using a fan gun is a costly procedure. Firstly, there needs to be water pipes leading up the mountain so that the fan gun can be fed water. Secondly, for the fan gun to produce hot compressed air and then cool it down to approximately thirty-six degrees uses massive amounts of electricity. Most establishments are looking at windmill energy to lower these costs. To minimize costing, the fan guns have on-board computers that constantly monitor the weather conditions and temperatures, adjusting their settings accordingly.

Various fan gun models are available, making purchasing the correct fan gun a little easier. Some are for use in very cold areas, some for windy regions, and then there are those for all-round general use. Many skiers prefer artificial snow, as the water content is higher than in natural snow and it is therefore a lot softer and smoother. Water levels in artificial snow can be regulated, allowing resorts to first cover the ground with a hard base, and then a softer covering. Even though fan guns allow skiers and snowboarding enthusiasts to take to the slopes earlier in the season, natural snow definitely costs less. But the majority of ski areas are prepared to do what ever it takes to satisfy and accommodate winter sports, snowboarding and skiing. Next time, while skiing down the slopes, one might look at the snow a little differently considering its source.