SI Vault
Bil Gilbert
February 21, 1966
The increase in ski resorts along the Mason-Dixon line, where blizzards come raging out of nozzles, is a boon to winter illusionists, many of whom hate to ski
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February 21, 1966

A No-snow Slope To Nonsport

The increase in ski resorts along the Mason-Dixon line, where blizzards come raging out of nozzles, is a boon to winter illusionists, many of whom hate to ski

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"Money," he says, with frontier frankness. "We're in the business of selling lots. These recreational facilities are like special items a store uses to attract customers. It works. Since last March we've sold $1,275,000 worth of lots.

"Now, take this ski business. We've sunk $650,000 or so into those facilities. Costs another quarter of a million a year to operate. We'd be nuts to do it just for the skiing. If we make 5% on the skiing itself we'll be happy, and that's not any kind of a return. But you have to see the overall picture. Normally this time of year you figure on selling four, five thousand dollars' worth of lots a week. Since the ski area opened [three weeks previously] we've done $150,000. We're proud of that."

It is a feat in which any salesman could take pride, particularly since a blanket of warm, moist air hovered over southern Pennsylvania during most of the early winter, turning Mount Charnita into a quagmire and making skiing not the most attractive draw imaginable for a recreation supermarket.

"It's not the skiing itself so much," explains the shrewd Pioneer. "It's the idea of skiing."

The vision unquestionably belongs to The Pioneer, but technical credit for whatever skiing—real or ideological—there has been belongs to a harassed state of Maine man plainly named Dick Brown.

"I was a hunting guide," twangs Brown, "and there was this fellow from New York wanting me to come down and help make snow at a ski place he had. I thought he was kidding, but he kept making offers, so one fall I decided it was a way to get south for the winter, so I came along. I've not been back to Maine, except for vacations, in 11 years."

During the 11 years Brown invented some patentable snowmaking equipment and became president of Sno-Making, Inc., one of three major firms whose combined efforts have brought skiing to the edge of the tropics. During the winter Brown, like some Norse divinity in charge of precipitation, takes up residence at the biggest, newest, most complicated area in which he has contracted to make it snow. In 1966 his base of operations is Charnita.

"We have here the world's largest snowmaking plant, maybe," says Brown with Maine caution. "I say maybe because there is one area on which, at the moment, I do not have information."

Even if they are running no better than second, Brown's crew makes snow at a rate that makes Mother Goose, plucking her steed, look like a piker. You get artificial snow the same way you get artificial whipped cream, by squirting liquid and air out of a nozzle. However, to get enough snow for a $650,000 ski resort you have to squirt big. At Charnita this is accomplished by connecting $200,000 worth of water pumps and air compressors to 35 gigantic nozzles. When the proper mixture of water and air is sprayed out of these vents the result is a granular, icy substance which, when enough of it piles up, looks like, feels like and skis something like snow. When Brown gets all jets going he can, in a 12-hour period, cover the 800-foot beginners' strip at Charnita with 18 inches of man-made snow. The cost of one such machine blizzard is $700 and 244,000 gallons of water. Furthermore, by varying the water-air recipe, Brown can manufacture powder snow, wet snow, heavy snow, light snow and, presumably with the addition of a little dye, Blue Snow such as confounded Paul Bunyan. And furthermore yet, "It's better than the natural stuff," says Brown in the manner of razor-blade salesmen talking disdainfully about competitive Brand X. "It lasts longer, packs better and I can make it at up to 46�, which cannot be done in the sky."

Despite the many virtues, there are limitations on the production of ersatz snow. The first layer should be laid down at below-freezing temperatures (though, as Brown testifies, subsequent drifts can be made under balmier conditions). Snow cannot be made when the humidity is high. There is another curious problem connected with southern snowmaking. "You'll get those lodges in a little bowl." explains Brown, "and they throw off so much heat the slopes will melt."

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