Snow farming? How WV manipulates weather for winter fun

Many of us have the romantic notion that skiing is completely natural. Gliding down untouched slopes– nothing could be more simple and pure than that, right?

Well, not so much.

The reality is that most downhill skiing takes quite a bit of human development for us to enjoy. And we really don’t think much about the most profound part of altering nature for skiing– most resorts actually produce and process the very snow that lays on their slopes.

Massive snow machine blowers convert water into snow, and then pack this snow down with groomers to give skiers a consistent base to enjoy.

All of West Virginia’s major ski resorts can make their own snow. Winterplace and Snowshoe, for example, can cover 100% of their slopes with manmade snow; using millions of gallons of reservoir water, and pumping out more than 7,000 gallons of snow per minute onto the slopes.

That’s pretty impressive. But there’s another, more simple technique, too.

It’s called ‘snow grooming.’ This is even more of an art, according to Chip Chase of White Grass cross country ski resort near Elkins.

Although White Grass does not have snowmaking machines, they are able to gather, spread out and groom snow on their runs. They can turn a snowstorm as minor as 2 inches into an extra 2 feet of snow on the trails!

How do they do this? By manually shoveling all that snow? Sometimes it comes to that, but the true key to this is “snow farming,” as Chase calls it.

Snow farming is an elaborate system of lightweight, movable fences. The high country of White Grass gets a lot of snow and even more wind; placing fences in the right places actually results in huge, manmade snowdrifts that save up snow to cover the 35 miles of trails.

It’s hard work for Chase’s crew of snow farmers– there are thousands of feet of fences, and often these need to be moved to catch the right wind pattern in cold, blizzard conditions.

After moving fences, the snow farmers embark in their fleet of groomers along prepared trails, which have been meticulously engineered to harness sun/shade, wind exposure and water drainage.

First, they tow rollers behind snowmobiles, compacting the snow into the same bases that downhill resort skiers enjoy.

Then, as a final touch, they drag trackers over the groomed trails, which leave pre-cut cross-country ski-sized tracks. Anyone who has had to break their own trail through fresh snowfall knows how nice that touch is!

This snow farming is a complicated process, but take a jaunt across a White Grass trail and you’ll see that these guys know what they’re doing.

“We’ve had many visiting skiers compare us to out West, New England, and even Europe,” Chase said.

Not all of our snow comes from heaven here, but it has never been debated that West Virginia winter is “almost heaven” for skiing. Whether you are kicking across the cross-country courses of White Grass or shredding down the slopes of Snowshoe, you’ll love our snow. It’s the perfect combination of nature and manmade ingenuity.

Now go out and play!

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This post was last updated on July 16, 2020