Kimberley Alpine Resort (KAR) is gearing up for another season and things are looking good thanks to cold temperatures and a decent amount of natural snow.
General Manager at KAR, Ted Funston, says he is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“We started making snow last Friday [November, 3] and we’re working around the clock to get the hill ready for opening,” said Funston. “We’re not ready yet but it’s a very positive start for us.”
To date, there is 79 centimetres of snow at the top of the hill.
“The best thing about our snowmaking program this year is that we’ve got natural snow as well. This is a very good snow fall for getting us going, in that it’s late enough that we expect it to stick around. Even if it’s warmer in the valley, up on the top of the mountain it will stay cool,” Funston said.
If conditions allow, the resort is hoping to host a preview weekend as well, says Funston.
“We’re keen on a preview weekend. If we can open early, especially for a weekend, we will do it,” Funston said.
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“People are keen, we’re keen, and our staff are keen; we will go early if we can, so long as conditions are safe. We’re definitely feeling optimistic.”
Marketing Manager at KAR, Meegan Field says that the current weather is ideal for snowmaking.
“They can make snow during the day if it’s -3 to -5, and at night the optimal temperatures are -12 to -15,” said Field. “They can still make snow if it’s -8 to -9 [at night] but right now the temperatures are ideal for snowmaking. The colder the better.”
Funston adds that snowmaking temperatures need to be colder than people think, “just because it’s freezing doesn’t mean we can start making snow. We need it to be cold.”
“We usually open on the second weekend of December,” said Funston. “The reason we start [snowmaking] on November 1 is because the temperatures are usually better, you need consistent weather. In October for example, even if it’s cold for a couple of nights, it could warm up and melt. So all of that hard work you’ve done is literally evaporating.”
Kimberley Alpine Resort has 11 snowmaking machines (often referred to as guns), five fixed guns on the towers and six that are portable. One of the machines was just purchased this year (they’re still looking for a name). All of the guns run on a fan system and are fed from two pump houses at the base and middle of the hill.
The guns take pressurized water from the pump houses, mix it with pressurized air and pump it into the air. The combination of the pressurized air and water condenses and freezes, turning into snow.
“When snow cat drivers are making snow, they will move the guns around a little, spreading the snow out,” explained Funston. “The guns build what we call a whale, which is a pile of snow, that the cat drivers then go and smooth out. Once an area is covered, they then move the gun and repeat the process.”
Along with making snow, KAR is currently track packing high up in the mountain both on the front and back.
“As soon as we get enough snow, what we’ll do is send one of our snow cats up there,” said Funston. “It packs the snow down and gets the air out of it. For example, it will take snow from 80 centimetres down to 10 inches or so. That’s what sets us up for the next snow fall [and creates a base].”
Funston says the highly skilled snow cat team is tracking everywhere they can in order to get ready for the next round of snow, which could be this weekend.
“We’re confident that our cat drivers are the best in the industry,” Funston said. “They’re really experienced, they care a tonne and they’re highly skilled. Our guys come back year after year and they are the best, they make it look beautiful.”
Director of Winter Sports School and Manager of Business Development at KAR, Robert Duncan says the hill depends on the grooming team.
“Even on a year, like two years ago, where we don’t have very good conditions, they [the groomers] get us open. We really depend on them,” said Rob. “The team is passionate and they are very effective at what they’re doing.”
A large part of getting the hill ready for ski season is also the summer grooming program, says Funston.
He explained that they send a crew out, with machines similar to snow cats, to mow down grass and alders so that there is nothing standing in the way of the snow when it does fly.
“What we’re finding is that once we knock down the alder a couple of times, the grass starts to grow and it takes over, pushing the alder back. It’s like the mountain starts doing this itself,” Funston said.
With the tentative opening only a month away, there is still a lot to do to get ready, says Field.
This season will feature an exciting change to one of the hill’s restaurants, plenty of events as usual from New Years Eve and Rail Jam to Spring Splash and Open Mics, and for the first time KAR will be hosting the Nor-Am Cup (more to come).