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How much water gets lost in artificial snowmaking?

The start of the 2016/17 winter season demonstrated once again that many sports resorts depend on snowmaking for their livelihood. Large quantities of water are consumed by the production of technical snow, especially at the beginning of the skiing season. Snowmaking initially entails the dispersion of water at high pressure to produce tiny droplets. As they fall to the ground, the droplets cool and freeze to form tiny beads of ice.

Über Nacht produzierter Schneehaufen

Blanket of snow produced overnight. Photo: Thomas Grünewald, SLF

By no means all of the water ejected by snow cannon reappears as snow on the ground – it is either carried away on the wind or undergoes evaporation or sublimation. But what is the actual amount of this water loss? In order to investigate this question, the SLF has now conducted initial snowmaking experiments in Davos. The researchers compared the quantity of water delivered to the lance to the amount of snow produced on the ground during a night of snowmaking. They measured the volume of snow, as required to determine the mass, by way of high-precision laser scanning at the start and end of the experiment. With the aid of snow density measurements they used the snow volume to calculate the amount of water contained in the snow. In addition, a weather station erected alongside the snow cannon supplied all the relevant meteorological data, including temperature, relative humidity and wind speed.

Dichtemessungen im technischen Schnee

Measuring the density of artificial snow. Photo: Fabian Wolfsperger, SLF

Initial results indicate that 15 to 40 percent of the water consumed in snowmaking is lost – values that are similar to those recorded in a study in France. The next step will involve the scientists mapping the water loss against the weather conditions and snowmaker settings, and extending the test series. They intend to use the gathered data to validate and improve their computer modelling of artificial snowmaking, draw conclusions about the most efficient use of snowmaking resources, and contribute to the further development of snowmaking technology.