It's a process something like icing a cake, except in this instance, the "cake" is 535 feet high and covers an area of roughly 100 acres.
The effort to encase the green peak of Spring Mountain, Schwenksville, in a coat of white suitable for skiing takes an organized crew, some heavy machinery and a little luck.
"The amount of time to cover the mountain with man-made show depends entirely on the temperature and humidity," says owner-operator Rick Buckman. "The colder and drier the air, the more water we can provide to the water guns. It can mean the difference between each gun producing only a few inches and an impressive ten-foot pile of fluff."
The weekend after Thanksgiving proved ideal to lay down a base coat: Early that Saturday, the relative humidity was a dry 59 percent and the air temp was a brisk 14 degrees. On the mountain, 33 snow guns were running full-tilt, spewing out a blizzard.
"The intake on the snow guns varies," Buckman explains. "They can accommodate anywhere between 7.5 and 120 gallons per minute. It takes just under 150,000 gallons of water to make a foot of snow on one acre of ground." Spring Mountain pumps its supply from the nearby Perkiomen Creek, feeding water through a series of hoses that connect to each cannon. Aerators turn the flow into a fine mist that is then blown into the air using huge fans.
Voilà. Instant White Christmas.
The piles of snow are then graded using snowcats, a tracked vehicle designed to groom ski trails, and tillers. A two-man crew will work overnight to ensure an even, skiable surface across the mountain.
Once the initial powder is down, it's a matter of maintaining it through occasional warm spells, taking advantage of temperature dips to replenish whatever may have melted. Or best case scenario, waiting for Mother Nature to supply the hard pack, which was certainly the case over the past few days.
The help from the skies has jump-started the ski season at Spring Mountain. Opening day is December 12, two full weeks before the lifts sprang into action last year. The downhill thrills are supplied by eight trails, two snow tubing runs, six lifts, and two terrain parks. Lessons are available for all levels, and all necessary equipment is available for rental. Students receive a special discount every Thursday night, when they can take advantage of savings on lift tickets, rentals and lessons, while a disc jockey keeps the energy high and the blood pumping, even through the frosty air.
During the season, fourth graders get steep discounts on season passes and take advantage of specials on rentals and lessons. Group discounts are also available.
The Freshies Café is at the base of the mountain to help you refuel. And right around the corner is the charming Woodside Lodge, if you want to relax those tired calves, thighs and shoulders in warmth and comfort.
Other accommodations are nearby. For a list, see our website.