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The Inside Scoop: Stratton Snowmaking

Stratton’s summit saw its first snowfall on October 22, 2016 – a sign of Accuweather’s winter prediction calling for “frequent storms to bring above-normal snowfall to the northeastern US.” Shortly after the first snowfall, snowmakers fired up their fleet of snow guns prepping the mountain with the goal of top-to-bottom skiing and riding for November 25. We caught up with Craig Panarisi, Vice President of Mountain Operations, to get the inside scoop on snowmaking.

When does winter prep begin for snowmaking?

CP: We start our snowmaking winter prep immediately after closing the previous season. Maintenance and repair are first. Pumps, motors, valves, pipes, hydrants and guns all need annual maintenance and a good looking over. We also go back and analyze our utility use. During the season we monitor all of our utilities, however the summer gives us a chance to look back over the data again and analyze how our strategies worked.

How about the snowmaking on-hill preparations?

CP: We inspect 75 miles of pipe and 2,500 hydrants to minimize air and water leaks. That involves charging the lines and testing.  Some of the pipes are 10 feet underground and others are on very steep terrain. When there is a leak, it is often not an easy task to repair!

We’ll also check the snowgun nozzles, hoses and the list goes on.  Over time, pressurized water and air cause wear on equipment.  With over 1200 snow guns, hoses, nozzles need constant replacement.

Let’s be frank. Last winter was a challenge. Any lessons learned? 

CP: Sure. We learned a lot last winter. Every winter is different and our strategy changes daily based on the weather forecast. All the resorts in New England would agree, resurfacing trails was critical last year as we received little natural snowfall. Instead of being able to open a trail and move on, we would go back to existing trails to add depth and survive the forecasted warm temperatures or rain event.  Last year was tough, but we worked really hard to have the best possible quality snow.

What’s new in mountain operations this year?

CP: We continually upgrade our analytical dashboard for snowmaking and other mountain utilities and this season is no different. Our new snowmaking control system will do double duty, not only allow us to control our system and reporting remotely, but also guide us to improve our efficiency.  This sophisticated new system gives our controllers immediate reporting, letting them know if we are being as efficient as possible or what they can do to improve. We are really looking forward to putting our new systems to the test!

Tell me something that might surprise people.

CP: We’re sticklers when it comes to grooming. Temperature and humidity play an important role. Our cat operators refuse to groom until the temperature is correct, even if that means not starting their shift until 2am!

 What sets Stratton Mountain Operations apart?

CP: We are patient. Stratton has a reputation for quality grooming and snowmaking. For that to happen, we have to force ourselves to not get caught up in the race to open first or have the most terrain available. Quality takes a little more time and effort, patience and pride helps us with that!

For mountain updates, visit the Stratton snow report page here. 

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