Located just 1.5 hours from Richmond and under three from Washington D.C., Wintergreen Resort is not only close to the major population centers of the East Coast, it's an easy-to-get-to option for a Blue Ridge Mountain escape full of winter fun for the entire family.
And it's all because of snow.
As with anything these days, technology comes into play. Wintergreen Resort is home to one of the world’s most sophisticated snowmaking systems in the country. First installed during the 2002-2003 winter season and continuously upgraded, this state-of-the-art Liberty computerized snowmaking system gives Wintergreen the power and "powder" to consistently offer the Mid-Atlantic’s best skiing and snowboarding surfaces. Sitting geographically a little further south than one might think, Wintergreen is the only ski area on the East Coast to have 100 percent of its terrain covered by automated snowmaking.This complex system involves approximately 40,000 linear feet of pipeline, more than 400 snowguns and 45 high tech weather stations. The result is gold-standard snow, with a uniformity of depth and consistency of snow quality from the top of the slopes to the bottom.
Zach Marlowe, the Mountain Manager at Wintergreen explains that everything on the mountain works in unison.
"The computers do all the checking to make sure we are always keeping the same quality snow. Whenever we are making snow, it's constantly doing all the calculations. Nobody has to walk by the snowmakers as the 400 guns are adjusting themselves."
It's all monitored from a central control room.
Marlowe can even monitor the snow and slopes remotely as the weather and temperature changes at the sprawling resort. Wintergreen Resort makes snow from the same two ingredients as Mother Nature – air and water. The timing and technology here are key as Wintergreen has a 5 million gallon water tank and a 100 percent computerized system that controls the ratio of air to water, the timing, and the placement of the snow.The modern system includes a network of more than 400 powerful snowguns, underground hydrants and weather sensors that control the precise mixture of air and water required for the best quality snow. The sensors, which are located on the edge of the slopes, continuously monitor humidity and temperature while sending signals to computer-controlled hydrants that are buried under each gun.
Wintergreen’s computerized York snowmaking system calculates the “wet bulb” temperature, which is a mathematical function of the dry bulb (ambient) temperature and the level of humidity. Due to the complicated relationship between temperature and humidity, it’s actually possible to make snow at temperatures above freezing. Likewise, on a humid day, it may not be possible to make snow even though the thermometer indicates that it’s below freezing.
You may not even notice that sensors are located along the edge of the slopes and look like white bird houses. The weather sensors’ job is to continuously monitor the amount of moisture in the air. As the moisture level rises and falls throughout the day, messages are sent to the hydrant under each snowgun and adjustments are instantly made in the balance of water to air. When there is more moisture in the air, there is less water in the mix. These adjustments continue non-stop while snow is being made.
For Marlowe and staff at Wintergreen this is serious business and technology that creates something out of almost nothing.
"You might say that snowmaking is just artificial snow," states Marlowe, "But there is not artificial about it, I say it's man-made snow..And we spend a lot of time trying to maintain the perfect depth. The depth of snow depends on slope and time of the year, but we ideally want 8-10 inches of snow."
Wintergreen's fully automated snowmaking system can create a perfect snowstorm with the click of a button. From one computer, a snowmaker can control all the snowmaking hydrants on the system. Consequently, manufactured snow is often judged superior to Mother Nature’s version due to its consistency and structure.
Soon, skiers, snowboarders and tubers will experience the results of snowmaking. It’s often happening at night while they sleep, but everyone appreciates the quality and abundance of snow produced at Wintergreen Resort. The snowmaking system has extended Wintergreen’s ski and snowsports season, which is going to begin soon. It also helps the resort recover quickly from rain or unseasonably warm periods.
Right now, Marlowe is chomping at the bit for some cool weather and a change for his team to jump into action. Wintergreen doesn't start to make snow for the season until there is a two week window of cold weather. A day here and there of cold temperatures is not sufficient to start to lay the base down, but it's coming soon, so make your plans to experience some "real" snow at Wintergreen Resort in Virginia.
If you hear Marlowe humming the words to a popular Christmas carol on or around the mountain, now you know why.