When the next big cold snap hits and you’re huddled in your downy-soft feather bed, you can rest easy knowing that Loon’s snowmakers will be working their freezer-burned buns off to get us skiing and riding as soon as possible. This year, our snowmakers jumped into action on Oct.13 (the earliest we’ve ever made snow at Loon) and we plan to reignite the guns soon as temperatures allow.
Earlier this week we talked with Ralph Lewis, Loon’s snowmaking Czar. Ralph’s official title is actually ‘Director of Skiing Operations,’ but ‘Czar’ sounds snowier. We decided to run with it.
Among his many responsibilities, Ralph oversees the resort’s lifts, maintenance, snowmaking – you name it. He was kind enough to take time from his Monday lunch break to talk with us about Loon’s aggressive early-season snowmaking plan, and what it takes to get the mountain up and running each fall.
Loon Mountain Blog: Our snowmakers made snow on Oct.13 this year. How did it go?
Ralph Lewis: It went very well. The lowest temperature we saw was 24 degrees, and we actually had 63 guns running on Upper Picked Rock, Coolidge Street, and Seven Brothers. It was the earliest we’ve made snow, period.
Loon Mountain Blog: Why did we make snow so early this year?
Ralph Lewis: We really are being as aggressive as we can, and we will open up really as soon as temperatures allow. If that takes us to the 17th of November or even earlier, we’ll open. That’s a little different from years past – we’ve always tried to open that week prior to Thanksgiving. This year we want to get open.
Loon Mountain Blog: How cold does it have to be to make snow?
Ralph Lewis: We like to see 28 degrees. If it gets warmer than that it’s really too inefficient. Anything colder than that is all the better.
Loon Mountain Blog: What trails will see snowmaking first this year?
Ralph Lewis: Sunset, Bear Claw, Upper Picked Rock, Lower Picked Rock, Grand Junction, Seven Brothers. That’s what we start with. We do Sunset first because that’s the highest in elevation, and normally the colder temperatures are on the summit. The other routes offer top-to-bottom skiing from the top of the gondola down to the base area. They’re the most direct routes, trails that we can get open the quickest.
Loon Mountain Blog: Aside from snowmaking, how much work does it take to get Loon running every winter?
Ralph Lewis: Behind the scenes the infrastructure has to get tested and maintained. The hill has to be cut and mowed. There’s a lot of hiring and training that has to go on in the early season, because your employee level swells as we get into November. We’ll have a minimum of, at that point, probably 40 snowmakers. Your grooming operators will start coming in, and to start off you’ll need at least three or four operators. Then you have to think about lift operations and maintenance. Although we’ve been working all summer on maintaining our lifts, there’s always inspections by the state just before we open.
Loon Mountain Blog: What are your thoughts on the upcoming winter?
Ralph Lewis: It feels so different than last year. It feels like the cold has come a little bit quicker. There’s a lot more weather passing through than there was last year at this time. I’m very optimistic and positive that it’s going to be a good winter.