How to

10 November 2016

How to Create Artificial Snow

The winter sports industry has an obvious reliance on snowfall; skiing is, after all, somewhat tricky on a bare rocky mountainside. Unfortunately for sports enthusiasts, the weather is far from controllable, and even our best predictions let us down on a regular basis. So, what do all these people do when there just isn’t enough natural snowfall to make winter sports feasible? Well, they make their own, that’s what.

In order to create your own ‘artificial’ snow, you first have to take a look at how snow and ice crystals form naturally before attempting to recreate that process for yourself. The formation of a snowflake actually begins with a speck of dirt or dust in the air. This serves as a nucleation-point, a surface onto which water particles can cling and condense as they freeze. As ice crystals begin to form around the particle, the crystals themselves provide the perfect anchor for more crystals to latch onto. As the snowflake grows in size and weight, it eventually becomes heavy enough to fall from the cloud as snow.

Recreating this process on Earth is a complicated endeavour, particularly as the creation of artificial snow is only really required in conditions under which it would not form naturally. Current techniques rely on bulky machinery in order to artificially recreate the necessary conditions, and the resulting freezing process.

This is achieved via the use of a ‘snow gun’, also known as a ‘snow cannon’; a large, fan-operated device which is used to spray super-cooled water, along with small particles to serve as a nucleation-point, 20-30 feet into the air. The reason the water is sprayed to such a height is to allow the water molecules to freeze as they would naturally in the clouds.

Of course, simply spraying water into the air will not create the same conditions as a naturally-formed cloud; ice crystals formed in this manner will drop back to Earth much quicker, before they’ve had the chance to form larger flakes. As a result, man-made snow is significantly harder and denser than natural snow.

The creation of artificial snow does unfortunately carry with it some significant environmental concerns. For starters, the snow cannons themselves are incredibly energy-intensive, usually relying on diesel engines to supply the necessary power to cover such a vast area (in Sochi this year, enough artificial snow was created to cover 500 football fields to a depth of two feet, according to the New York Times).

The other concern is water; without water, creating snow would of course be difficult, but as the low snowfall that necessitates the use of artificial snow is often associated with low humidity and drought, these machines can be a massive drain on already dwindling water supplies. This can in turn have a detrimental effect on local ecosystems.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.