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Behind The Scenes

It's a job that doesn't get nearly as much credit as it deserves ... welcome to Snowmaking

It’s a job that doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it deserves. Snowmaking is a tough business. It’s cold, it’s labor-intensive and oft-times can be dangerous. But every winter, Holiday Valley’s crew is out on the front lines, giving us the best snow they can. Dan Aldrich has made snow for over 20 years. The Ellicottville native’s roots are firmly entrenched in the resort’s snowmaking operations, and he’s seen the evolution of manmade and its impact on the overall vibe of the resort. “I’ve been around these guns a long time,” Aldrich told me. “But every year, we adapt and get better. The technology the resort has adopted over the past couple of seasons - namely, the HKD Automated systems - make our jobs easier and the quality of the snow superior.” A typical day for Aldrich starts around 11:15pm, when he arrives at the resort and sits down with the previous shift’s supervisor. They talk for 20-30 minutes, going over where they’re at with water levels, the moves for the night and what needs to be priority. “Every night is different,” he said. “One night we might want to focus our efforts on a particular section of the resort. My guys and I have a brief on staying safe and what we’re going to do, then we get suited up and head out. The shift change can take anywhere from 60-90 minutes, so once we’re out, we’re hustling.” Each gun needs to be checked at shift change, so the crew will disperse on snowmobiles to their assigned sections. While they’re doing that, Aldrich is cruising around the resort adding guns and checking water flow. The primary goal? To make sure all the water is online for maximum efficiency. “What we’re doing is adding and maintaining what the crew before us has done,” he said. “When the crew is out checking on the guns, I’ll go around to each pump house and make sure our snow max is mixed properly. Basically, getting the right snow mixed and made where it’s needed most.” Over the past couple of seasons, the resort has bought and replaced its current Ratnik snowmaking guns with HKD Automated towers and guns. HKD, the Massachusetts-based manufacturer and supplier of energy-efficient snowmaking technology, allow the crew to make the best possible snow at the best possible times. “Man, what a game changer these HKD guns are,” Aldrich said. “The overall efficiency in getting the water out on the hill is better 10-fold. It’s more visual, less hands-on and gets over the hill more quickly. Back in the day, we’d have to worry about dragging a gun to a specific spot, dragging a hose out and dealing with it that way. Now, we can turn the guns on with the tap of the smartphone and use our manpower much more efficiently.” The addition of more automated HKD guns every year - 237 out of 611 total guns at HV are HKD automated - makes the overall experience for the skier and rider much more enjoyable. The technology is geared towards keeping the snowmaking away from the guest, so they’re not encountering those pesky wet piles or snow sticking to their goggles. Aldrich told me that in years past, the limited snowmaking capability would be focused on the Yodeler-Mardi Gras-Candy Cane loop, which is perennially the first run(s) open at the resort. However, automated snowmaking allows the crew to distribute the snow much more evenly across the entire resort. “Before, when we had marginal temperatures, we could maybe run 20 guns,” he said. “Now, we can run 100-120 and focus on east, west, and the variety that the resort is so famous for. It’s the same amount of water, but the guns are strategically placed to get key runs open. When that happens, we’ve got a happy crew. But most importantly, we’ve got happy guests.” I asked Aldrich about the camaraderie of the snowmakers. He told me it’s not like working with other people - it’s like working with family. “We all have each other’s backs,” Aldrich said. “Pretty much everyone comes back, year after year. We all love making snow and putting the product out that everybody loves, and that’s our common bond. Everyone knows what to expect out of each other, and I can’t say enough about that family feeling. We’re here to do a job, but it doesn’t feel like we’re working. We just want to provide the best possible snow for people to ride and ski on. And don’t worry - we test out our own product plenty.”