Great Snow! It’s the single most important ingredient at a ski/snowboard resort and the #1 priority at Nub’s Nob. Without great snow, nothing else matters. While our natural snowfall average hovers around the 123” per year mark, artificial snowmaking is still the lifeblood of the area. Our experience, commitment and dedication to producing the finest man made snow surfaces is the cornerstone of our mission.
The Basics of Snow
First, a fundamental: artificial machine-made snow is REAL snow. There’s nothing artificial about it. Snow crystals — however they’re produced — are simply small crystals of frozen water. In nature, evaporation of water from the ground, lakes, rivers and the oceans creates moisture in the atmosphere. Under the proper conditions, this moisture condenses – and when the weight of the moisture exceeds the capacity of the air to keep it aloft, it falls to the ground. If the air above the ground is cold enough, it falls as snow. Often the crystals pick up more moisture as they fall, resulting in the myriad shapes for which snow crystals are famous.
The Basics of Snowmaking
Machine snow shortcuts the process. There’s no evaporation phase; the water is pumped as a liquid from our pond which is replenished by six wells dedicated to snowmaking. This high pressure water (350 to 400 PSI) is forced into a ring of specialized nozzles mounted on the front of a large volume fan. This ring of nozzles breaks the water into very small particles making them easier to freeze. In the center of this ring we inject a smaller stream containing a mixture of highly pressurized air and water. This compressed air/water mixture freezes instantly as the compressed air expands after it leaves the nozzle and “nucleates” or seeds the water coming from the ring. We are so particular about the way this process happens we invented and patented our own gun after we got it just right. We use only Nub’s Nob snow guns built right here in our shop.
From here, the process is similar to Mother Nature’s: the small droplets of water mix together, freeze and fall to the ground as snow crystals. The only difference is that the water doesn’t have as much time to freeze before it hits the ground. It takes a massive snowmaking system managed by an experienced crew to make the great snow you are used to at Nub’s.
Physics Lesson: What makes water freeze?
In terms of pure physics, there is no such thing as cold. There is only heat – more heat, and less. Heat always tries to reach equilibrium – so it will flow from an area of more heat (“warmer”) to less heat (“colder”).
When liquid water freezes, the water gives off heat until it reaches the point at which it crystallizes. We generally assume this will happen at precisely 32 degrees Fahrenheit – which it in fact does only under highly controlled circumstances.
When we look out the window at our thermometer, we see what meteorologists refer to as dry bulb temperature. It may give us guidance on how to dress, but when it comes to the physics of freezing water droplets, it doesn’t tell the whole story. The amount of moisture in the air – relative humidity – also impacts how quickly a water droplet will give off heat and become “cold”.
The way the human body is affected by heat and humidity gives some insight. On a summer day with an 80 degree temperature and a 95 percent relative humidity, we feel hot. That’s because our bodies are cooled by sweating – giving off warm moisture into the atmosphere. On a humid day, the air won’t absorb as much moisture, so our bodies simply can’t lose heat as fast as we can on a 90 degree day with 20 percent relative humidity. That’s why we can feel cooler on a “warmer” day. When people say “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” – they’re not fooling.
The speed with which a droplet of water radiates heat into the atmosphere and becomes snow is affected by relative humidity in exactly the same way.
As a result, modern snowmakers have less interest in the dry bulb temperature than the wet bulb temperature, which is a mathematical function of dry bulb temperature and relative humidity. When the atmosphere is saturated and cannot hold anymore moisture, the dry bulb and wet bulb temperatures are exactly the same. This is also known as the dew point. But when humidity is extremely low, the wet bulb temperature may be subfreezing – less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit – when the dry bulb temperature is as high as 40 degrees. This makes it occasionally possible to make snow at temperatures well above “freezing,” and can prevent us from making snow on some nights when the temperature is below freezing but the humidity is high.
It takes a lot of water to make snow.
Our wells can pump over 5000 gallons of water per minute into our supply pond. Six high pressure pumps then feed over 24 miles of underground piping, from 14” diameter main lines to 4” return lines, to all of our 46 slopes we make snow on. This water system is larger than water systems in most communities in Northern Michigan!
It takes a lot of snow guns to make snow.
Over 300 of our patented Nub’s Nob snow guns are used to cover the entire area. This gun was invented and patented right here at Nub’s and is the original energy efficient fan gun the rest of the world is still catching up with. These guns can turn over 50 gallons of water per minute into snow at temperatures below 29 degrees and over 100 gallons of water per minute in snow at temperatures below 17 degrees. We like it cold!
It takes a lot of electricity to make snow.
All of the snowmaking equipment, from supply wells and high pressure pumps to the snow guns themselves, are powered by 480 volt, 3 phase electrical power. At full capacity we are using over 6200 horsepower of electric motors!