Snow farming

November 6, 2013

When you think of the words ‘snow farming’ does the idea of a snow farm come to mind? Well, put the idea of pigs and cows aside, because the process of snow farming (a practice that has taken place for over 20 years) is a main driver in why Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort is world renowned for their 111 runs.

“Because we sit on the Continental Divide we always get snow, it’s just a matter of timing of when we get that snow,” said Al Matheson, Mountains Operations Manager at Sunshine Village. “We have over 60 feet of fence sitting on a mountain, it becomes quite the structure.”

The structure Matheson mentioned is the over 30 km of fencing that is strategically placed all over Sunshine Village’s mountain ranges in order to collect snow.  That’s enough fencing to go from the town of Banff to Sunshine Village and back again. 

“The fences are put in the ground with steel rods so that it doesn’t come out - it creates reservoirs of snow that we can pull from. It’s almost like damming the snow. Once we get well into winter the snow doesn’t melt and stays all the way into May,” said Matheson who manages the snow team that farms the snow for the season.

The snow team that constructs and takes care of all of this fencing starts the season off with only six people in early fall, and the team grows to 15-17 people once the season starts. 

“The process starts in September without a hint of snow. We pound several thousand pieces of six foot steel into the ground. Once the ground freezes we can tie the fence to it. It’s a meter high, and the ground has to be frozen, because if not the wind pushes on the fence and it will come out of the ground.” 

“Once the fence has been tied to steel we wait for the snow to fall. When there is enough snow we bring the snow cats out and track pack.” 

Track pack is when the snow team goes out with the snow cats and physically stomps down the snow, and this process isn’t completed in one snow fall explained Matheson. 

“We do it again and again. It’s a process that continues over and over again.”  

But, rest assured that once the season opens Matheson’s snow team replaces the steel fencing with bamboo to keep everyone safe on the slopes.

When we asked him about why we don’t make man-made snow with machines, Matheson simply said, “We get the snow naturally and plentifully,” which is why Sunshine Village is known around the world for its spectacular natural snow.

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