Let’s Talk Snowmaking: February Cold Blast Means Great Ski Conditions

How many gallons of water does it take to cover all the runs at The Homestead with machine-made snow? What’s the perfect combination of conditions for snowmaking? We caught up with The Homestead’s master snowmaker, Steve Sanborn, for these answers and more. Read on.

When most people think of Northern Michigan in winter, they naturally think of snow—deep, deep snow. So it may come as a surprise to learn that The Homestead has any snowmaking machines at all.

But the resort’s coastal location provides some unique challenges where snow is concerned. That’s why, years ago, The Homestead invested in top-of-the-line SMI snowmaking machines to take over when Mother Nature doesn’t exactly cooperate. Steve Sanborn is the man in charge of making those machines hum.

How has this year been on the snowmaking front? Have the snowmaking machines been quiet thanks to all the snow we’ve been having?

On the contrary, we have been quite busy. The resort’s grooming staff does an excellent job in presenting runs in a way that most skiers have no idea they are skiing over a golf course. Filling in the sand traps with snow, smoothing out the bunkers—contouring winter ski runs over land that is used as a golf course for the rest of the year requires a significant amount of snow.

How many snowmaking machines do you have? What are the ideal conditions for making snow?

We have five stationary tower guns and fourteen traditional snow guns—the barrel-shaped kind that we can move throughout the ski area. We also have twelve snow-sticks that are used for narrower runs. But none of it works without the right conditions. Basically, what you’re looking for are temperatures in the mid-teens, low humidity and minimal wind.

What are some of the unique challenges of making snow at a place like The Homestead?

Two major challenges being right next to Lake Michigan are the water and the wind. Water acts as an insulator at this time of year (until it freezes). Typically, air temperatures here at the resort are 5- to 10-degrees warmer than areas just a few more miles inland. As for the wind, the almost constantly blowing wind coming off Lake Michigan makes it difficult to keep snow on the North Face of the ski hill.

Where does the water for the snowmaking machines come from at The Homestead?

It takes approximately 12-million gallons of snow to cover all of our ski runs. We’re lucky to have a river flowing right through the property—the Crystal River, which is our primary water source. Wells at The Homestead also provide water. We take the water out, transform it into snow, and—when it all melts in the spring—the water goes right back where it came from.

LED Board tracks snowmaking gallons by day.

What are some of the conservation measures The Homestead takes to making more efficient?

The SMI snowmaking machines we use at The Homestead are really topnotch. They’re all designed to maximize efficiency, specifically when it comes to conserving electricity used in the snowmaking process.

Any memorable tales from the snowmaking trenches?

Looking back over the years, one incident that remains most memorable is the time that our snowmaking team returned from the booster pump house on a routine operations check to find the snowmobile they road in on entirely engulfed in flames. The apparent cause was an electrical wire short, and the team brought things under control quickly; however, we were reminded that a seemingly “tame” job like snowmaking, definitely presents its own challenges to snowmakers.