Vail Mountain fires up snow guns ahead of opening day on Nov. 20 |

Vail Mountain fires up snow guns ahead of opening day on Nov. 20

Snowmaking operations are running at higher elevations; automated equipment allows adjustments for atmospheric conditions

The snowmaking equipment has started running on Vail's Mountain's higher elevations. Opening Day is Nov. 20.
Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts
Four facts:
  • Vail Mountain opens Nov. 20.
  • The resort has 421 new snow guns compared to 2018.
  • Higher-elevation snowmaking can begin sooner.
  • Snowmaking season is from roughly October through January, depending on conditions.

In the wake of a Sunday storm that dropped a few inches of snow, the snowmaking machinery started Tuesday on Vail Mountain.

The snow guns are running at higher elevations, which was the point of the resort’s 2019 snowmaking expansion. That expansion at the time was touted as the biggest North American ski area improvement project in at least a decade.

Besides cooler temperatures, snowmaking depends on something called “wet bulb” readings, a combination of temperature and relative humidity. For snowmaking, low relative humidity can actually benefit snowmaking, so the valley’s dry spell can actually be an advantage.

High-tech snow

The expanded snowmaking system also benefits from technology.

Vail Resorts spokesperson John Plack said the new snow guns are automated, and can detect when to run and when to shut down. The new guns can also vary the air/water mix depending on atmospheric conditions.

“Each gun is different,” Plack said. “That lets us be energy-efficient and water-efficient.”

Conditions permitting, that early snowmaking at higher elevations will allow Vail to open more terrain to more guests more quickly. Plack said the resort is set up now to open lift portals out of Golden Peak, Vail Village and Lionshead early in the season.

That’s particularly important this year, Plack said.

The higher-elevation skiing allows the resort to have enough terrain to “spread guests out in a COVID environment,” Plack said.

While snowmaking has started in Vail, the guns have yet to start at Beaver Creek. Snowmaking should start soon, Plack said.

With hundreds of acres of snowmaking, Plack said there will be access to “key connection points” on the mountain.

Welcome news

News about snowmaking was welcomed Tuesday in Vail.

Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh said he’s excited to hear snowmaking operations have begun. But, he added, he’ll be happier when Vail Resorts releases details on the merchant pass program and how many people will be allowed on the mountain with a new reservation program.

Vail Chamber & Business Association Director Alison Wadey said she’s heard from several business owners about the uncertainties heading into the season.

Wadey added that although it’s the right time of year, news about snowmaking was a bit of a surprise.

“It kind of snuck up on everybody,” Wadey said.

But, she added, there’s plenty of activity in the town’s business community.

Retail stores are watching occupancy reports for clues about merchandise ordering, she said. Restaurant owners are working to decide whether to participate in a program that would erect tents outside their businesses to allow expanded dining areas.

The good news, though, is that lodges seem to be busy with bookings.

“I think the word’s out that we’re making an attempt at a ski season, and people want to be a part of it,” Wadey said. “It sounds like people are using their Epic Pass credits and they’re excited to use them.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at

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