The Art of Snowmaking

Snow-making and grooming in the Ski Welt is as good as it gets with 434 snow cannons and 624 snow lances up to six meters high covering 210km of 270km pistes and a fleet of 60 Pisten Bully snowcats for grooming.

The Ski Welt is among Austria’s best ski areas with 270km of well-groomed pistes, state of the art ski lifts and an average of one mountain restaurant for every 3km of pistes. As well as running the lift system, the Ski Welt’s six lift companies are also responsible for snow-making and grooming.

Reservoirs high in the ski area act as collection points for water which can then be pumped easily as needed to feed snow-machines on every run. Water used for snow production is first sterilised to ensure drinking quality water (a legal requirement in the Tirol) and cooled to one degree Celsius then emitted at high pressure by snow machines as an ultra fine spray, which immediately crystallizes on contact with cold air and falls to the ground as snow.

Humidity and temperature determine how much water is present in any given volume of snow and the best conditions for snow-making are when daytime or night time temperatures are between -1 degree Celcius when humidity is low (less than 30 per cent) and -6 degrees Celcius if humidity is relatively high.

Dry snow is lighter, more powdery and generally better for skiing. Wetter snow is denser and is used for building snow depth early in the ski season and on busy ski runs throughout the winter, then finished off with layers of dry snow. Humidity and temperature varies with altitude and from point to point on any given ski slope, so each snow-making machine must be adjusted accordingly.

Artificial snow-making in Ski Welt usually starts mid-November, continues until February and is almost entirely computer controlled. Central computer systems linked to local weather-stations measure temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction to determine the best water-and-air mix for optimal snow conditions. The whole process can be started, monitored and stopped by one person acting as Snow God and at the click of a mouse.

Ski Welt ski slopes are very well maintained thanks to good snow conditions and perfect grooming. Sufficient snow is just one requirement for good skiing; snow dispersed by skiers and boarders during the day is redistributed and compacted at night. When the ski lifts close up to 60 diesel-powered Pisten Bully snowcats are busy grooming the ski slopes from 4pm until past midnight.

Pisten Bully snowcats delivering 360-500bhp push tons of snow back up to the top of the slopes and from the sides back into the middle. The more powerful Pisten Bully’s are equipped with a steel cable drum – the steel cable can be attached to anchor points at the top of a slope, then released as the Pisten Bully descends the slope – and a powerful electric winch in addition to raw engine power to haul the Pisten Bully ploughing tons of snow back up to the top of the slope.

A Pisten Bully steel cable is up to 1km long and released via an overhead electric winch on the Pisten Bully that revolves through 360 degrees to enable the driver to turn freely when the cable is extended. When hundreds of meters of steel cable are fully released the cable cuts beneath the snow making it invisible from above and a potentially serious hazard if it suddenly pulls tight and springs back above the snow.

In Sőll, local ski tourers ascend the mountain at night using ski touring equipment and head torches until they reach the top gondola station on Hohe Salve then ski back down in darkness to the concern of Pisten Bully drivers whose main concern is safety rather than preserving their perfectly groomed corduroy pistes.

By the time Ski Welt guests climb into their beds the ski slopes have been restored to perfect condition thanks to the efforts of the lift companies and the highly-skilled Piste Bully drivers.

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