By Rick Miller
On top of more than a foot of natural snow that has fallen at Holiday Valley over the past week, the resort’s mountain crew has brought out its big guns — snow guns, that is.
Thanks to the largest snowmaking system in the East and second-largest in the country, Holiday Valley plans to open for skiers and snowboarders Friday morning.
It will mark the beginning of the resort’s 61st year. At the peak of operations later this season, Holiday Valley will have 1,200 employees at the resort and nearby tubing park.
The man who oversees snowmaking operations, Steve Crowley, has been making snow there since 1984, and became mountain operations director in 2004.
There’s a world of difference in snowmaking over the past 34 years.
“Automation is a huge advantage,” Crowley said Wednesday at McCarty Cafe on the ground floor of Holiday Valley Lodge.
In 1984, crews dragged 24 snow guns and hoses up and down a few slopes. On Thursday, there were 215 automated snow guns going on 10 slopes, getting things ready for Friday’s opening. There are 630 snow guns at Holiday Valley, about 330 of which are automated.
What’s more, Crowley can run the extensive automated system from his cellphone. The app by HKD, maker of the snow guns, is a smaller version of the interactive map of Holiday Valley slopes at the control center near the Yodeler Lodge, which is manned around the clock.
The snow guns’ sensors note weather conditions and adjust water and compressed air automatically for the type of snow they are producing, Crowley said.
“The guns adjust themselves,” he said, adding the computer program can specify base, production or resurfacing snowmaking.
“It’s incredible,” Crowley said. “The company put the resources into snowmaking” to extend the ski season.
It just has to be cold to make snow.
Holiday Valley just received a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to buy 107 new automated guns that will replace a similar number of less efficient guns, said Jane Eshbaugh, resort marketing director.
“This year was ideal,” Crowley said. “We started making snow last week. We’ve got 14 inches of natural snow mixed in.” There is a base on the slopes of 16-18 inches.
Holiday Valley targets the day after Thanksgiving to start skiing, but the weather can delay that opening. If there is cold weather and no snow, the resort stockpiles man-made snow to get a head start.
There are three seven-person snowmaking crews and supervisors for each shift. “It’s around the clock, seven days a week as needed,” Crowley said.
In the past week, Holiday Valley crews have directed 65 acre feet of snow onto the core slopes they will need to open on Friday. That is equal to a foot of snow across a football field — including the end zones, Crowley said.
Crowley gets a first hand look at conditions nearly each morning as he, Eshbaugh and her husband, Dennis, the resort president and general manager, and Bonnie Koschir, vice president of resort operations, hike to the top of Mardi Gras slope and ski down — sometimes more than once.
“The greatest sunrises are at the top,” Crowley smiles. They get out before the chairlifts start up.
What does Crowley find as the most satisfying part of his job?
“The thousands of people you watch all season enjoying skiing with their families,” he replied. “There’s nothing better than to see a whole family skiing together.”
Four quad chairlifts — Yodeler, Mardi Gras, Tannenbaum and Creekside — will operate from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, and then 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dennis Eshbaugh said.
Nine slopes and trails: Yodeler, Edelweiss, Mardi Gras, Candy Cane Loop, Crystal, Tannenbaum, Ballet, School Haus West and the Rail Park will be open, with the possibility of additional slopes depending on snowmaking.
Ticket prices for Friday through the weekend will be $65 adults for eight hours, $59 for four hours and $35 for nights starting at 3:30 p.m. Junior rates are $53/$47/$29.