Pump it: Snowmaking on the OSV

If you think you’ve spotted Austria National Ski Team members Michael Walchhofer or Benjamin Raich doing their morning run at the resort, your eyes are probably telling the truth.

For the last four years, the Austria National Ski Team has enjoyed exclusive rights to train on the Nancy Greene International Race Centre at Sun Peaks prior to the start of ski season.

“When they’re here, we see them running in the morning or at night in the village. It’s pretty neat to see these world-class athletes training (at the resort),” said Alain Brunelle, Sun Peaks Resort’s sports director.

The OSV run which the Austrian team trains on is equipped with a quad lift and can accommodate up to four lanes of giant slalom training.
The privacy in the resort is a major draw, said Brunelle. “They have exclusive space,” he said. “They really like that.”

Another major reason is the quality of snow. When it comes to snowmaking, it’s a combination of luck and hours of hard work by the crew, who start snowmaking in October so the Austrian team can train early.

Mother Nature’s cooperation is needed to get the right conditions for snowmaking. Several weather forecasts must be consulted to decide when work can start. The optimal snowmaking condition is -4 degrees Celsius or colder with less than 60 per cent humidity, said Kevin Bendick, Sun Peaks Resort’s outside operations director.

When the right conditions are met, the crew, composed of 14 snow makers and 21 groomers, get to work. Getting the OSV ready is a Herculean effort, taking about 200 to 230 hours of round-the-clock work using snow guns, snowcats and probes. A 33-million gallon reservoir that collects spring runoff supplies the water needed.

The best output so far? “We were able to pump out 2.3 million gallons in three days,” said Slopes Manager Seth Worthen.

“That translates to OSV, plus upper Cahilty and the Five Mile runs about 30 per cent done,” said Bendick.

The high moisture content and freezing temperatures create a surface as hard as a skating rink ideal for race training. Using a snow probe, the depth must be checked throughout to ensure an even coverage of two feet of compact snow. Man-made snow has a high-density structure, explained Bendick, which explains why it stays longer on the ground compared to natural snow. When the two are combined, they “make a very dense crystal, very long-lasting, very resistant to wear.”

Other departments contribute hours of labour to get the run in perfect shape. “It’s a huge team effort by the whole company to get this done, and we just happen to be the fortunate ones on the hill with them everyday making it happen,” emphasized Bendick.

The Austrian men’s and women’s team are expected to arrive in Sun Peaks in mid-November. They’ll train until the end of the month to compete in World Cup races and then return in February to prepare for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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