Snowmaking at 70 Degrees? It's Possible (With a $2 Million Device)

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A snow machine in Sochi spitting out snow on mountain.

Doug Pensinger / Staff / Getty Images

When weather conditions don't cooperate and fail to drop enough snow on ski resorts, operators often supplement the natural fluffy white stuff by generating fake snow to keep winter-sports enthusiasts happily skiing away. But snowmaking is not an infallible option. Snow machines typically only work when temperatures stay below freezing, so if it's both dry and warm, then resort owners are often out of luck.

Or are they? As the Daily Climate reports, two companies have come up with snow-making technologies that defy unpredictable weather conditions and global warming. They can even produce snow that is worthy of athletic skiing at temperatures of 70 degrees or higher. Some of the innovative machines are on hand for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, where they have already been supplementing natural snow.

Of course, there is a cost for this game-changing and game-enabling technology: the machines cost about $2 million. A typical snow gun like you'd find in most ski resorts costs just a fraction of that amount (between $2,000 and $35,000). These devices are much larger. According to a news release from one of these companies, All-Weather SnowTek of Finland, their device is a multi-part system — one half of it is the size of a tractor trailer — and requires two trucks to transport it to the site where it will be used. It then takes a day to set it up.

But according to the news release, the system has been working well at Sochi's low elevations. "The snow is solid and firm and it lasts very well in the heat and in the sun. The snow has been produced successfully, even though the temperature has been up to more than [86° F] in the sun." According to the company the machine uses no harmful chemicals and can produce 600 cubic meters of snow in 24 hours.

Of course the Sochi Olympic organizers aren't relying solely on these expensive devices for their snow. They have employed hundreds of normal snow-making guns around the slopes and courses. Joe VanderKelen, president of SMI Snowmakers, told Discovery News that his company has set up 450 snowguns around the area, which together can convert 12,000 gallons of water into snow in a single minute. "We're not depending on one centimeter of natural snow," he said.

Is it worth using all of this technology to enable winter sports when winter doesn't comply? Jordy Hendrikx, director of Montana State University's Snow and Avalanche Lab, told the Daily Climate that we should give the use of these devices some thought. "Technology allows us to do amazing things, but we also have to question whether it is addressing the issue at a wider level," he said.