Just add water: Making snow at Great Bear Ski Valley

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Natural snow has come and gone and artificial snow was driven away by the rain on Dec. 15.

Great Bear Ski Valley will again be using its snow guns to make snow starting overnight Dec. 16.

Making snow requires cold temperatures, water and a chemical mix according to Dan Grider, the general manager of Great Bear which is a Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation facility.

“(It’s an) organic material added to water,” Grider said.

The material is like a speck of dirt to which the water clings. Grider said it’s difficult to quantify how much snow can be made during a given period.

“When all the guns are blazing, we can use 950 gallons (of water) a minute,” Grider said.

The snow making system makes one pile of snow after which the guns are moved to create another pile of snow.

“I do know that if we can get six to seven days in a row… We can get at least six acres of skiing open,” Grider said of snow making.

Grider said snow making could start the night of Dec. 16 because the low temperatures are expected to be in the low 20s and high teens. Snow making could continue into the morning, he said.

“Tomorrow night we can start again,” Grider said. He expects to make snow on Saturday.

Although the low 20s and upper teens are acceptable, he’d like it just a bit colder. Also, low winds or no wind are best.

Making snow at Great Bear in November of 2020.

If conditions allow, Great Bear can make snow around the clock.

The area did get several inches of snow on Dec. 10 but that wasn’t enough for tubing or skiing according to Grider.

“Typically, we get a cold front behind 10 inches of snow… But we got a warm front of all things,” Grider said.

But Grider said he and Great Bear take the weather in stride because it can’t be controlled.

It takes work to make the snow because individual piles need to be broken down and then, the snow needs to be groomed.

“Overnight snow making is really hard work but you get to see the progress,” Grider said.

During the winter season of 2020-2021 Great Bear had 48,000 skiing and tubing visitors in 70 open days, he said.

He compared that to the busiest visitor season of 2010-2011 when it had 50,000 skiing and tubing visitors in 95 open days.

“So, we had 25 fewer days and only 2,000 less visitors,” Grider said.

The city park has drawn about 272,000 visitors from the 2012-2013 through the 2018-2019 season, according to a city of Sioux Falls audit.

In addition to a lack of artificial or natural snow, extreme cold and a lack of snow in a person’s backyard keep visitors away, Grider said.

Great Bear can be open but if temperatures are well below zero it keeps some people away. And even if it’s cold enough to keep the artificial snow, if people don’t see snow in their backyard, the casual visitor may not think of coming.

The ski valley added a roughly $2 million new chair lift this summer. It replaced a more than 40-year-old lift.

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