Frequently asked questions about TechnoAlpin and snow-making technology

Why is artificial snow needed?

Technical snow-making, often also known as artificial snow, nowadays provides the basis for winter tourism. Without snow-making systems, ski resorts would no longer be able to meet today's increased demands. Studies indicate that snow reliability is the number one criterion when it comes to choosing a winter sports destination. They also show that just 20 % of visitors will accept extras or hotel services by way of compensation for insufficient snow. Especially when planning a skiing holiday well in advance, winter holidaymakers will choose the destination which has the facilities to offer guaranteed snow for the dates in question. Guaranteed snow is also a deciding factor for potential investors. Besides the direct added value for ski resorts by way of cable cars or ski schools, artificial snow also forms the basis for indirect added value for entire regions and has an impact on the hotels and restaurants in the surrounding area.

How is artificial snow produced?

Like natural snow, artificial snow consists of nothing more than water and air. Fan guns and snow lances are used to simulate snowfall and crystallize snowflakes. Snow-making technology involves the use of nucleators which produce a mixture of water and compressed air which forms nuclides (= snow nuclei) on entering the atmosphere. The nozzles on snow guns atomize the water into fine droplets which combine with the nuclides and freeze into small snow crystals on their way down to the ground. This descent is simulated differently by different snow producers. Fan guns and/or snow guns are fitted with an air blower for this purpose, while snow lances use the natural drop height of up to ten meters.

How does a snow gun work?

Water and compressed air are needed to generate technical snow. The compressed air can either be transported from a compressor station to the snow guns or produced directly on the individual machines by a built-in compressor. The water reaches the snow gun via an underground network of pipes. Compressed air and water are cooled to the optimum temperature in the air-water cooler from where they are transported directly to the nozzle ring comprising water nozzles and nucleators. The water is finely atomized via the water nozzles. Water is injected into compressed air in the nucleators. Expansion in the cold ambient air produces nuclides, small ice crystals, to which the fine water droplets attach. The finely atomized mist and nuclides are finally distributed via the rotor and freeze in favorable conditions to form snow.Snow guns are characterized by a wide projection range, high snow output, low wind sensitivity and flexible use. Therefore they are mainly used on wide slopes, in areas with a high demand for snow or in open areas exposed to wind.

How does a snow-making system work?

The snow-making system is just as unique as the ski-resort in which it is used. The system must perfectly match the respective natural environment and requires the corresponding know-how at the planning stage. Snow-making systems are complex technological devices which incorporate a variety of components. Out on the slopes it is mostly just snow guns and connection points that are visible, yet these devices only make up a small proportion of the entire system. The water and air for artificial snow must be transported from the machine rooms to the various snow guns via mostly underground pipelines. The pumping plant for the water supply is located in the machine rooms. The compressor stations can also be installed there if the snow guns do not have their own compressor. The water used for artificial snow-making usually comes from waterways, natural lakes or artificial reservoirs. Cooling towers are used to bring the water to an ideal snow-making temperature. The snow guns must also be connected to the power supply. Underground data cables are used to ensure that every snow gun is integrated into the system's fully automatic control software and can be operated from a central control unit.

At what temperature is artificial snow produced?

As with natural snowfall, air temperature and air humidity need to fulfill certain requirements for the artificial production of snow. The term used in snow-making technology is therefore the wet bulb temperature which expresses the ratio of temperature to relative air humidity. It is always below the outside temperature. As in nature, snow can even be produced at temperatures around freezing point if the conditions are right. With very low air humidity (20%) artificial snow can even be produced at a dry bulb temperature of up to +3°C. The water temperature always plays a key role and should ideally be slightly above freezing point.

What is meant by the term wet bulb temperature?

The wet bulb temperature is the temperature most relevant to snow-making technology. It expresses the ratio of air temperature to relative air humidity and is always below the outside temperature. The damper the air, the less moisture it can absorb Therefore, colder temperatures are required to form snow crystals from the fine droplets of water. TechnoAlpin snow guns start producing snow from a wet bulb temperature of -2.5° Celsius. If the atmospheric humidity is very low, this level can be reached at temperatures slightly above zero but if the air humidity is high, sub-zero temperatures are required. Temperatures around freezing point are referred to as borderline temperatures or limit temperatures.

What is the difference between artificial snow and natural snow?

Like natural snow, artificial snow consists exclusively of water and air. The only difference lies in the production method. Artificial snow is produced by replicating the natural snow formation.Natural snow is formed when the finest water droplets accumulate in the clouds on crystallization nuclei (e.g. dust particles) and freeze there. The resulting ice crystal lattices (less than 0.1 mm in size) fall downwards due to the increasing mass. On the way to earth, the water vapor in the air accumulates, causing the crystals to continue growing. The size of the snowflakes deposited as new snow depends on the temperature. If it is warmer than -5° C, large snowflakes form. At cooler temperatures, the air becomes drier and the flakes are smaller.The principle of formation is the same for artificial or technical snow. The only difference is that the snow core is produced by a mixture of water and compressed air through the snow gun. Due to the lower overall drop height, however, artificial snow has a slightly different crystal structure than natural snow and is harder because the snowflakes are smaller.

What is the difference between artificial snow and technical snow?

The correct term for snow which has been produced with the aid of snow guns is "technical snow". This is often referred to colloquially as artificial snow. It consists solely of water and air and differs from natural snow only in that it is produced by a machine. In the true sense of the term, "artificial snow" refers to snow used for theater and film and made from plastic or polystyrene.

Is chemistry involved in artificial snow production?

No. Technical snow or artificial snow imitates the way in which natural snow is produced and consists only of water and air. As with natural snow, water is simply transformed into another physical state.

How much snow can one snow gun produce?

The amount of artificial snow produced depends on the particular snow gun model. The TR10, the fan gun with the biggest snow output currently on the market, produces 10 truck loads of snow per hour under optimal conditions.

How much power does one snow gun require?

The newest TechnoAlpin snow guns produce 30% more snow using the same amount of energy than they did 15 years ago. It is not only the energy efficiency of the device itself that is important, but also all components of the snowmaking system, including system planning, the construction of pumping stations and the careful use of resources. The energy consumption of a snow-making system depends on the chosen technical system, the location, the water supply and the climatic conditions. In order to keep resource consumption as low as possible, TechnoAlpin has developed a sophisticated and highly efficient technology, as well as special software for controlling the snow-making system, thus enabling targeted snow-making. Thanks to detailed weather data and snow height measurements on snowcats, it can be ensured that snow is only produced in the right places and under optimal conditions. The deployment of smart control software has significantly improved the energy balance of TechnoAlpin equipment in recent years. Today, our fully automatic systems require up to 30% less energy than manual systems.

How much water does one snow gun require?

Snowmaking does not consume water, it only uses it. As the snow melts or evaporates, the water returns 100% to nature at a later time. Snow guns require different quantities of water per second, depending on the model.One cubic meter of water can produce an average of 2.5 cubic meters of snow. About 1,000 cubic meters of water are needed for the basic coverage (approx. 30 cm snow depth) of one hectare of slopes. This corresponds to less than one-third of the water needed for an Olympic swimming pool.

How much does a snow gun cost?

Snow gun prices vary depending on the model and application. A fully automatic TF10 fan gun is worth the same as a middle-of-the-range station wagon. A snow lance can be purchased for about a third of the price in comparison.

How much does artificial snow cost?

The cost of producing one cubic meter of artificial snow depends on the local conditions in any individual case, such as water supply, pumping capacity, reservoirs and snow-making conditions. Trade publications usually estimate a figure of 3.5 - 5 euro per m³ of snow.

What types of snow gun are there?

TechnoAlpin supplies three types of snow generators: Fan guns (i.e. snow guns), snow lances and the Snowfactory. Snow guns and snow lances basically produce snow in the same way but differ in the amount of snow produced, the cost and the application range. Selecting the most suitable snow gun will depend on the orientation and gradient of the hillside, temperature, slope width, amount of snow required, wind situation and air circulation. Both types of machine are available as fully automatic or manually adjustable models and can be used to produce a range of different snow qualities (from completely dry to wet).In addition to these two established snow guns, TechnoAlpin introduced the Snowfactory in 2014, a snow gun for warm temperatures. This snow machine is not intended as a substitute for classic techniques but is more of an addition to the possible applications of snow-making technology.

What are fan guns?

Fan guns are often also called snow guns. For a long time, mobile fan guns were the only models which were used. As snow-making technology developed, however, the stationary installations also became popular for surface coverage in order to avoid set-up times. Fan guns are characterized by a wide projection range, high snow output, low wind sensitivity and flexible use. Therefore they are mainly used on wide slopes, in areas with a high demand for snow or in open areas exposed to wind.

What are snow lances?

Snow lances basically generate snow in the same way as fan guns. A greater height is required, however, to crystallize the snowflakes because they lack the propeller, or turbine, fitted in the fan guns. Snow lances therefore have a lower projection range and greater wind sensitivity but they are more accurate in terms of where the snow lands. The quantity of snow produced by a lance is similar to that of a small fan gun. Ideal fields of application are, for instance, narrow slope sections without particular exposure to wind, connecting pistes or ski trails.

What is the Snowfactory?

The Snowfactory is a snow gun which can also be used in warm temperatures. The Snowfactory is designed as an addition to the potential uses of snowmaking technology. It is therefore mainly used on lower slope sections or at events in large towns. The Snowfactory produces snow using innovative cooling technology without any chemical additives. No complicated building work or fittings are necessary to install it, which is why it is also suitable for temporary applications.

What is ATASSplus?

ATASSplus is a smart software package which is used to operate snow-making systems. The program continually collects data from snow guns and meteo stations and optimizes the production of snow, monitors the use of resources, and provides clear statistics and diagnostic graphs. ATASSplus is regularly updated and upgraded to include new features.

How long is the service life of a snow gun?

Snow guns have a very long service life. Products from different generations are now being operated side by side in many ski resorts. The M90 fan gun has had a successful track record for over 30 years and continues to be operated alongside the latest models. The investment in new snow guns is more a question of technology and efficiency than a lack of functional efficiency.

How long does it take to make a snow gun?

All TechnoAlpin snow guns are made at the main base in Bolzano (South Tyrol/Italy). Over the past 30 years, more than 60,000 snow guns have been delivered to over 2,400 customers in almost 50 countries. More than 80-90 snow guns are produced in an average working week at TechnoAlpin.

How many snow guns does TechnoAlpin build every year?

TechnoAlpin has been building over 2,000 snow guns a year since 2005. On average, over 4,500 snow guns have been produced in recent years. The numbers of snow lances and snow guns are roughly the same.

Can snow also be produced indoors?

Nowadays, TechnoAlpin no longer only produces snow solely for ski slopes, but also offers solutions for indoor ski centers and snow domes. The indoor ski centers offer an authentic winter experience in areas where natural snow is hard to find. Ski slopes are just as much a part of this as play areas. There are also snow rooms for a wide range of applications including wellness areas or in flagship stores.

How can fires be extinguished with snow guns?

TechnoAlpin's know-how in water atomization and turbine technology is also used off-piste. The subsidiary, EmiControls, was founded in 2011. It offers tailor-made solutions to protect against fires, dust and odors. EmiControls machines look like snow guns but use the technology in a different way and do not produce snow.