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Nowadays, snowmaking technology is fundamental for winter tourism. Without snowmaking 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 and ski schools, snowmaking also forms the basis for indirect added value for entire regions and has a knock-on effect for the hotel and catering industry in the surrounding area.
Like natural snow, technical snow consists of nothing more than water and air. Fan guns and snow lances are used to simulate snowfall and the crystallization of snowflakes. Snowmaking technology involves the use of nucleators which produce a mixture of water and compressed air which forms nuclides (= snow nuclei) in the ambient cold air. 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 fall is simulated differently by different snow guns. Fan guns are fitted with an air blower for this purpose while snow lances use the natural drop height of up to 10 meters.
As with natural snowfall, air temperature and air humidity need to fulfill certain requirements for technical production of snow. The term used in snowmaking technology is therefore the wet bulb temperature which expresses the ratio of temperature to relative air humidity. The water temperature always plays a key role and should ideally be slightly above freezing point.
The correct term for snow which has been produced with the aid of snow guns is "technical snow" or "man-made snow". Like natural snow, it consists only of water and air and so the only difference is that it is produced by a machine. The frequently used general term "artificial snow" is therefore incorrect. Artificial snow is in fact plastic or polystyrene snow made for theaters or films.
TechnoAlpin supplies three types of snow generators: fan guns, snow lances and the Snowfactory. Fan 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.
Fan guns are often also called snow guns. For a long time, mobile fan guns were the only models which were used. As snowmaking 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, steep terrain or open areas exposed to wind.
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.
The Snowfactory is a snow generator which can also be used in warm temperatures. The Snowfactory is designed to add to the possible applications of snowmaking technology and is therefore mainly used on lower slope sections or at events in large towns. The Snowfactory produces snow by means of an 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.
ATASSplus is an intelligent software package which is used to operate and control snowmaking systems. The software 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.
Snow guns have a very long service life. In many ski resorts, machines from different generations are now being operated side by side. The M90 fan gun has had a successful track record for over 20 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.
All TechnoAlpin snow guns are made at the main base in Bolzano (South Tyrol/Italy). Over the past 25 years, more than 30,000 snow guns have been delivered to over 1,800 customers in almost 50 countries. More than 50 fan guns are produced in an average working week at TechnoAlpin.
The cost of producing one cubic meter of 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.
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 and the colder it must be 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.