Your soft chin is hit by a myriad of ice cold, unidentified, microscopic objects. It is difficult to keep your eyes open, the tickle of the bullet attack makes you laugh. It must be what they call snow.
During the next 24 hours the orange coloured snow machine at your left will pour out tons of this stuff, non-stop. The steep slope you are about to descend on your broad alpine skis is equipped with six such cannons.
“We are able to extend the season to late April, due to a fully automated system, and the half pipe will stay intact and open until mid-May for the joy of our regular and visiting snowboarders”, says Mads Mørch, a former professional alpinist who titles himself “snow manager” when asked about his occupation. He started preparing slopes in Oslo Winter Park in 2003 with the help of steadily technically updated snow machinery.
In an office at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Professor Trygve Magne Eikevik is studying a new project intended to revolutionise the experience of having white powder under your feet in places where winter usually means no show of snow.
The state subsidised project he is part of is testing a new type of machinery that is supposed to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than today’s mechanical power. This is a new type of pump taking its principle from cooling machines like those found on refrigerators. You use the cold to make snow, and the heat surplus to warm anything from tap water to a whole building. “This is a win-win situation”, Eikevik promises.
“Nature’s own method of snow creation is not easy to copy. The individually shaped snow crystals that you observe as they fall slowly to the ground derive from frozen water that takes a lot of time to form. From its very start in the mid-1970s, snowmaking equipment has only managed to produce snow with a substance that is very close to hail, small pellets of frozen rain. On the other hand, this quality makes a solid fundament for the slopes, so that they don’t melt as easily as the real thing”, explains professor Eikevik.
So far so good for perfect conditions when alpine skiing. But what about the snowman we want to build by rolling two fist-sized snowballs bigger and bigger, and then put a carrot as a nose in the middle of its face?
“You better wait for nature’s own snowfall to create a standing snow figure. The snow should not be like powder, but rather wet, informs Mads Mørch of Oslo Vinterpark, and opens his thermos to have a quick coffee break by the slope.
An increasingly number of orange painted machines will continue to blend in with colourful alpine outfits in Norway’s many sunny slopes and trails. Thanks to these hard-working devices you can count on extended, continuous seasons and freshly prepared snow, sometimes just metres away from your breakfast table.
Then, occasionally, your soft skin will be hit by masses of the natural thing quietly descending from the sky to embellish the man-made fundament like painstakingly knitted carpets.
The art of snow-making:
The first snow machines go back to the mid-1980s in Hemsedal ski resort.
Snow production starts at minus 2,5 degrees Celsius.
High pressure pumps lead the water into the snow apparatus, that jets small water particles that are transformed into snow as they hit the cold air.
Machine made snow has a substance that is very close to hail, pellets of frozen rain, that doesn’t melt as easily as real snow.
Snow falling or flying in the air:
Snøkrystall – snow crystal
Snøflak – snow flake
Snøfjom – small snow flake, snow dust
Snøfjukse – large snow flake
Snøkjerring – very large snow flake
Hagl – hailstone
Kunstsnø – artificial snow
Describing snow already on the ground:
Kram – damp snow, good for snowballs
Slaps – wet snow
Sørpe – very wet snow, often mixed with water
Skare – icy layer covering softer snow
Hålke – very slippery, hard snow or ice, often on roads