The artificial production of snow, like that of any other material once found in abundance, can be a riveting thing to witness for the very same reason it can cause alarm: it demonstrates both the mastery of our surroundings as well and our anxious desire to manufacture them in the face of escalating material scarcity. All around the world, ski resorts and other snow-based trades are reporting that they can no longer rely on the natural cycles of the global climate to produce the snow they need to keep their businesses afloat and must consider alternative means. “If [they] relied only on natural snow,” explained meteorologist Joel Gratz, “some resorts wouldn’t be able to open at all, and others wouldn’t be able to run their base areas.” The tools for snowmaking, as it is known today, were first developed in 1950 and patented in 1952 by engineers Art Hunt, Dave Richey, and Wayne Pierce by attaching a garden hose to a 10-horsepower compressor and spray-gun nozzle. From modest beginnings came sophisticated, large-scale instruments that have been helping related businesses to maintain operations more days per year, since the 1970s. The components sited on the edges of ski paths are known as snow guns, which shoot tiny water droplets into the air that freeze before they hit the ground. One version of the snow gun internally combines water and compressed air to split the water into droplets atop a slender tower and propels them far and wide, while the more expensive version, known as an airless snow gun, propels water using only a powerful internal fan within a cannon-like form. As simple as snow guns may sound, the hidden infrastructure and software required to sustain them are modern marvels of engineering. Resorts work year-round to service and stock the water reserves embedded within the slopes, and some are able to transport as much as 12,000 gallons of water a minute uphill. And because employees of a resort cannot reasonably inspect the varying weather conditions of their sites on foot, snowmaking systems are often equipped with computerized sensors that collect hyper-localized weather data to determine the most optimal times for activating the snow guns. These sensors can not only reduce the labor costs of up to 30 percent but can also significantly lessen the amount of water expelled over the course of the winter season. Given that some of the largest North American resorts can spend as much as $2 million annually on snowmaking alone, the sensors provide a much-needed strategy for improving cost and material efficiency. Snowmaking techniques have evolved so dramatically in the last forty years, in fact, that some resorts have opened up in warmer parts of the world by relying entirely on the technology. There are now indoor ski resorts in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Australia, and other climates whose populations have rarely experienced snow first-hand. One of the first modern examples is Dubai’s Emirates Indoor Ski Resort, completed in 2005 by local company Majid Al Futtaim. The 240,000-square-foot building is raised just above the scorching desert ground, and its interior is snow-kissed every day of the year under a low-slung painting of a foggy blue sky. Even when temperatures outside exceed 106 degrees Fahrenheit, the interior of Ski Dubai remains within an optimal wet-bulb temperature range thanks to a series of overhead air conditioners that allow the snow guns attached to the perimeter to do their magic whenever a bald patch emerges on the slopes. Majid Al Futtaim is currently developing Wintastar Shanghai, which will become the world’s largest indoor ski resort at nearly one million square feet when complete, while the first indoor ski resort in North America is set to open in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on December 5 with 5,500 tons of snow on its slopes. The global water supply required for snowmaking, however, cannot easily keep pace with the development of ski resorts around the world. While the climates that have naturally supported skiing conditions, such as the Swiss Alps and parts of the American Northeast, are typically adjacent to copious water reserves that support snowmaking when necessary, the more recently developed ski resorts often go to much further lengths to keep their businesses afloat. And, given that it can take up to 14 kWh of energy (about the same as washing seven loads of dishes) to produce a single cubic meter of snow, the process of snowmaking for even a modestly-sized resort is far from energy-efficient. As naturally occurring snow becomes an even rarer commodity in the near future, the global competition among resorts for optimal skiing conditions by artificial means will no doubt continue unabated. With time, however, more sustainable methods of snowmaking may come to light—the only other alternative is conservation.
Posts tagged with "Snow":
Wintry Buffalo, New York is about the last place you might expect to find a building with no mechanical HVAC system. Yet that's where a pair of architects fired up their custom-designed masonry heater, also called a kachelofen, which warms a contemporary cafe space by burning just six logs per day—even through a record-breaking winter where the average temperature was just 22.8 degrees. Where possible, architects are increasingly ditching mechanical heating and cooling systems to cut carbon footprints and sometimes budgets. But frigid western New York is a tough climate to tackle without the benefits of modern mechanical heating. University at Buffalo architects Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis, who run their own practice, pulled it off using a specially engineered masonry heater. Their kachelofen (pronounced KA-hell-oh-fen) is a wood stove that on a typical day slowly radiates the heat from a single, hour-long burn over the following 24 hours. A long, rectangular flue pipes smoke from the burn around a doubled-over, 30-foot loop, warming up as exhaust from the fire flows through. Charlotte Hsu from The University at Buffalo quotes Davidson:
“Very long horizontal flues are unusual because smoke wants to go up, so it’s very challenging to keep it from stagnating,” says Davidson, a UB clinical assistant professor of architecture. “Many of the masons we talked to said they couldn’t do a horizontal flue longer than 8 feet.”Rochester, New York's Empire Masonry Heaters could, however. They helped the architects enliven the flue chamber, covering the refractory cement with patterned tiles reminiscent of an intricate mosaic. Their ornamental chamber doubles as a café bench. The kachelofen is known in North America simply as a masonry heater. While its winter-busting abilities are new to Buffalo, it is a centuries-old form of heating in Northern Europe. North America is “a fertile ground for new developments on masonry heater construction,” said the architects of the cheekily-dubbed Cafe Fargo. “It seems also with a widening consciousness about 'green' forms of heating, and rising heating costs, the good old masonry heater is grabbing peoples' interest,” they told AN. At only 880 square feet, their cafe is well-suited to the system. But Davidson and Rafailidis said masonry heating could work in larger spaces, too, but it might require several heaters to evenly heat multiple rooms. Wood-fired systems also need to be constantly monitored. Buffalo takes a degree of pride in its cold and snowy conditions, but if you've warmed up to the radiant heat of Cafe Fargo you may want to drop by—it's still looking for a tenant.
As the Sochi Olympics commence amongst a slew of issues ranging in severity, the New York Times has imagined what the games might look like in a more local context. Perhaps inspired by the weather of late, these renderings imagine what particular locations throughout New York City might look like playing host to a variety of events. The typically circular speedskating track has been unfurled into a 16,400 foot angled sprint from Madison to Battery Park. The ramps of the ski jump stretch out across Bryant Park to loom over the Public Library. A track for bobsled, luge, and skeleton races snakes through Times Square, curving amongst the billboards before a final straightaway past the Lion King. Downhill requires perhaps the most monumental intervention, with Central Park hosting a 2.2 mile long mountain twice the height of the Empire State Building standing 20 blocks to the south. The replica of the course from the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center is slightly larger than the most recent snow-covered artificial mound to grace Manhattan. Head over to the Times for more.
Now that we're well into this winter's snow season in New York and elsewhere, Chicago-based designers Natalya Egon and Noel Turgeon offer up some inspiration for alternative means of dealing with the wintery accumulation. The duo calls for an approach to snow clearance more deliberate in nature than the hastily-formed soot-grey masses so often seen lining city streets. Their Second Hinterlands project advocates reshaping snow over outright removal, treating the snow as a material that can be used in the creation of interactive landscapes within designated urban areas. The building blocks of the proposal are the various landscape-types that one could conceivably construct out of snow. Having generated these categories, Egon and Turgeon then situated these forms, either in isolation or combination, in a variety of urban contexts in order to create innovative winter environments. In the words of the designers, such installations blur the traditional boundary lines of neighborhoods as "the softscape of snow meets the hardscape of the city." The design was selected as the winning entry in this year's COLDSCAPES, an annual competition held by the Center for Outdoor Living. Fittingly known as COLD, the organization is an initiative of Kent State University's Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. The two other winning submissions from this year's competition used slightly more conventional architectural materials in their plans for coping with cold urban climates.
Hang up those snowshoes. The NYC Parks Department has officially canceled this year's Winter Jam, an annual event that invites New Yorkers to come try out an array of snow sports in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. What gives? Not only is there no snow in the forecast for the planned February 4 date, but average temperatures are too high for the city to even fake it. "It is simply too warm to make snow, and the long-range weather forecasts and current ground temperatures make it extremely unlikely that snow could be made," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
We've come to hate snow in the city, as it readily turns to gross, sock-soaking brown muck. But today, when we stumbled upon a scene straight out of Aspen, we were reminded just how beautiful and transformative the white stuff can be. Ducking into Muji for some last-minute holiday shopping on our way back from the Gehry theater press conference on 10th Avenue, we were delighted to find a mountain clearing where the courtyard of the Renzo Piano-designed Times building once was. From the birch trees to the unbesmirched snow, its the sort of sight you would struggle to find even in Central Park, let alone Midtown. Excuse us for getting sentimental—it must be the eggnog—but these are the sort of moments that remind us of the power and import of good architecture.