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Business Q&A: Tussey director rolls out upgrades

Bennett Hoffman, Tussey Mountain Ski Area’s director of operations, said the resort completed three years of upgrades as part of its five-year snow-making improvement plan

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Bennett Hoffman, Tussey Mountain Ski Area’s director of operations, said the resort completed three years of upgrades as part of its five-year snow-making improvement plan . Photo provided

Bennett Hoffman has been busy lately.

Hoffman, Tussey Mountain Ski Area’s director of operations for the past three years, is charged with working out the kinks to make sure everything runs smoothly. He has some new toys to make that happen.

After all, Tussey Mountain’s lifts have to run just right, the snow has to be at least a foot and every employee needs to know their role on the hill.

Q: You’ve got new equipment for snow-making this year. What’s different?

A: As a part of a five-year snow-making improvement plan, we have completed three years of major improvements. Over the prior two years, we have purchased three large oscillating fan jets and new tower-style guns that have replaced older equipment. In addition, we have installed 12 new state-of-the-art fixed snow-making guns with built-in weather stations and are run through an IT infrastructure controlled by our virtual snow making control center. These machines have the ability to produce snow at higher wet bulb temperatures.

In 2014, roughly a mile of waterline pipe has been replaced and added to eliminate the risk of leaks and emergency repairs. In addition, pressure at the summit was increased by approximately 50 psi as a result of the more direct, streamlined runs and reduced friction from the new pipes. The new piping system more than met the original objective of higher water pressures for all snow-making, which will increase the output of all the snow guns by 20 to 50 percent depending on the snow gun type and location.

On Utah, one of our main slopes, 10 water hydrants and compressed air outlets were installed to line up snow guns for greater snow-making capacity. Another major addition this year is a 400 horsepower variable frequency drive motor that will increase water pressure significantly and will work on demand rather than constant pressure to conserve water and energy. All of our tower guns and newer machines will run more efficiently with the increased water pressure. A new trail map is currently being developed to include our new glare (tree) skiing areas, future expansion areas and terrain parks.

Q: Why did you replace older equipment?

A: Thanks to a significant investment by the board of directors of Tussey Mountain, we were able to capitalize on newer snow-making strategies and technology. It was time to upgrade to improve our snow-making operations. As a result, last winter season we made the most amount of snow and had the longest snow sports season in the history of Tussey Mountain.

Q: Could you take me through the process of how the snow-making works?

A: Snow-making is a combination of water and air pressure. A major misconception is that snow making can take place when the temperature is below freezing. Snow-making is based on a wet bulb temperature that is a combination of temperature, humidity and dew point. An ideal snow making wet bulb temperature is 25 degrees or lower. Clear, cold, high pressure arctic air with low wind conditions enables us to run at full capacity that results in the greatest amount of terrain coverage. Another key to successful snow-making is grooming operations. Allowing freshly made snow to settle with slow and methodical grooming (tilling) is key to good snow conditions.

Q: How is it working out so far? Has there been a learning curve figuring out the new equipment?

A: There is always a learning curve in this industry. During the earlier short cold snaps, we tested, retested, and tested again. With the major infrastructure improvements, there are many variables and adjustments that come in to play.

Q: How much snow do you need to make for the slopes to be operational?

A: We like to start with a minimum of a one-foot base.

Q: Does business pick up whenever there is real snow falling?

A: Natural snow is our best advertisement. People get excited about winter sports when they have snow in their backyard. Natural snow on top of machine made snow is ideal for our industry. When there is a fresh drop, skiers and snowboarders like to make first tracks in the fresh snow. In addition, natural snow is key for our expanded tree skiing areas. Many people find snow to be a nuisance, we pray for it.

Q: What is the most difficult part about maintaining the snow on the slopes?

A: Mother Nature not cooperating — high humidity, high dew point, rain and fog.

Q: I think the question on everyone’s minds is, can you eat it?

A: I would recommend eating the food we have in our cafeteria and our pub. We want people to ski and ride on our snow not, eat it.

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