Making Powder on My Town’s Big Hill

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By Amy Miller

My town has a ski hill, the best darn ski hill in America. A rope tow drags people up the 175 vertical feet for $5 a day.

Of course, when the winter is warm, or dry, we can’t ski. Some years we are open only two days and some years we are open most of the winter, which for us means 12 hours a week on Wednesday and Friday nights and weekend days.

Powderhouse Hill, as this town-owned resort is called, made snow a few times this year. We borrowed equipment from a Big Hill up north. Some hill volunteers reason that if we made snow just a few times we could stay open more days and make better use of this local treasure. Other volunteers think making snow on Powderhouse Hill is like trying to turn your kids’ splash pool into a Hawaiian beach, and we should let the little hill be.

While Powderhouse Hill, with its volunteer staff and town owned land, can afford to debate the question, the big ski resorts (everyone but us) all depend on snow making.

According to one manufacturer of snow makers, it takes about 75,000 gallons of water to cover an acre with six inches of snow. As far as the environmental damage, most resorts pump from reservoirs at low ground and the runoff from the slopes goes right back into these reservoirs, which is basically the story at our little hill. Although the water goes back to nature, it still gets moved around in a way that may not be good for plant and animal life.

But according to BioOne Research, the bigger environmental and financial cost is the energy it takes to pump the water. Energy is second to labor in the cost of operating a ski resorts, the organization says.

Although the equation is different at Powderhouse, we join other resorts in trying to balance costs and benefits. If we make snow one cold day and the next two days are balmy, the power and effort may be wasted.

Under a variety of climate change scenarios, the average ski season will be reduced by 37 to 57 percent by 2050, BioOne says. Taking into account current snow making technology, the season should only be reduced by 7 to 32 percent.

Last year, Powderhouse Hill was open only a couple of days, I think. This year, the rope tow was spinning more weeks than not. For us, that was a very good year.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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