Every year, snow making and timing become more and more critical. Mother nature hands out windows of opportunity to make snow and move it. Sometimes it’s better to sit on what’s made rather than rushing to spread it out and get trails open.
The target date for opening every year is around the 15th of December. Opening means there are a couple slopes and a lift or two to accommodate the pre-Christmas traffic. That traffic is always very light, so many slopes stay closed. Snowmaking crews work around the clock to stock pile snow and prepare for the real goal…. Christmas Week. Christmas week is so important for HoliMont and its members. Many lasting family traditions were created during the holidays at HoliMont and our goal is to have the best skiing possible for that week.
The biggest concern with trying to open for earlier skiing is of course cost. Our normal pre-season procedures require the hiring of 30 snowmakers, about one week prior to Thanksgiving. We do not have a large enough full time staff to just start snowmaking so we have to hire seasonal people. Year after year Thanksgiving has been the optimum time for hiring our snowmaking crew. They then participate in a one week intensive training program to get them up-to-speed on our snowmaking policies and procedures. We historically then start making snow the first week of December by “firing up” our snowmaking system. Of course, this all hinges on favorable weather of cold temperatures in early December. We have established this time frame because it has been our best chance to efficiently lay down a lasting snow base and get the area open for Christmas – our main goal for the membership.
We actually begin our planning process for snow making prior to a forecast of sustained cold weather. If we start the hiring process after we get a favorable forecast, we can miss our window of opportunity to get an effective start on our snow making for the season. Again there has been no change in this policy for many years and the Board has not “deferred” skiing until Christmas, we would actually like to open as soon as possible in December, so that all of the new seasonal staff can have some experience and training, before the Christmas rush.
Traditionally, making snow in November is risky, again from a financial point of view. Usually the ground is significantly warmer than in December and this creates more melt of the snow we are able to make. Even if we are able to make snow in November air temperatures are historically more moderate and the snow making water can be quite warm, making our finished yield much lower. Making less volume of snow however still requires the same investment in labor, energy and materials as when we are operating at peak performance.
This is the dilemma we face each year. To achieve desirable and safe November skiing, we would have to hire our snow making team roughly a month earlier. If we encounter normal November weather (as has been the case in 8 of the last 10 years) we end up having to “make work” for 30 snow makers. Once we hire our snow making team we need to keep them busy so we can depend on them to stick around for the entire snow making season (roughly three months). Making snow in November depends on a lot of “IF’s”. But the one thing we have learned from experience is that if the ground is too warm and we don’t get sustained cold temperatures, the snow we make melts and we end up starting from scratch in December. We’re then just pouring money and effort down the drain and snow making is very expensive. We sometimes run the same risk in December but we have learned that we have much better odds.
We will continue to hire our crew to start training last week in November and if the weather will allow it, the guns will be blazing on the first of December and we will open as soon as we can.
We don’t like closing runs once they are open. Typically, once a run is open at HoliMont, it stays open until the warm temps of spring roll in. A little patience in the opening weeks goes a long way come February and March. Last February was a great example of how proper snow management can go a long way. Not many people are better at it than the HoliMont Snow making crew. In February of 2017, the area saw a melt down due to warm temps and wind. Local ski areas were turning brown and their stock piles of base snow and piles dwindled. Trail counts on ski reports dropped and many places scrambled to patch up what they had left. HoliMont stood poised and covered with 32 trails and 5 lifts in operation.
So, while you may be bummed your favorite trail wasn’t ski able week one, you’ll be happy we sat on those snow piles come spring. Have fun and ski safely.