Story written by Marlene Farrell. Photos by Kevin Farrell.
Winter is fleeting in Leavenworth, and even more so the last two years, when locals and visitors alike were checking weather reports and performing desperate snow dances in November and December, waiting for the snow to fall.
Snowmaking can alleviate this test of snow enthusiasts’ patience, because a first foot of human-made snow can be sprayed on the tubing run and alpine bowl when temperature and humidity are good, whether or not there’s a cloud in the sky.
The condition for feasible snowmaking is 28° on a scale known as wet bulb. Wet bulb incorporates temperature and humidity, and snowmaking can occur even in above-freezing temperatures when the humidity is low, which is common in Leavenworth.
The missing element for snowmaking has always been water. Ski Hill currently runs the lodge and Summer Theater needs off a well that averages only fourteen gallons/minute. Snowmaking requires up to 100 gallons/minute per machine.
The City of Leavenworth has shown its support of LWSC by devising a temporary system of accessing water from the water tank located across Titus Road. If approved for a Forest Service permit, a pump will be installed next to the water tank, a pipe will be fed under the road and lay above ground along the edge of the parking lot to the snow machine hydrant near the tubing hill. LWSC would also need approval from the county to put the pipe under the road and assistance from the P.U.D. to meet the power requirements for the pump.
LWSC expects this temporary system will showcase the utility of snowmaking, in terms of extending Ski Hill’s season on either end, and removing the need to haul in truckloads of snow. When snow recedes, showing dirt, the melting accelerates because the dirt warms up more quickly than the reflective snow. Snowmaking would patch the thin spots and maintain the albedo effect of full snow coverage.
The temporary system will also demonstrate that the machines operate at the same decibel volume as a washing machine, and they don’t put any chemicals into the snow. Snowmaking would not compete with other water needs of the city and residents downhill of the tank, because winter is a time of low water use.
The LWSC board and general manager Mark Milliette are expediting procedures to obtain the temporary system. However, with the timeframe of the Forest Service permit process followed by the time needed to order and install a pump, and accounting for the costs of a pump and renting a machine, snowmaking is a long shot for this upcoming 2015/2016 winter.
Perhaps it won’t be necessary, and Mother Nature will be sympathetic to the snow lovers. Whenever it happens, the temporary system will prolong the fun for locals and tourists and ensure the financial viability of LWSC until a permanent system of snowmaking can be installed. LWSC’s long-range plans include three snowmaking machines and eight hydrants.