With this post I just wanted to share an adventure with you. Back in the 1980’s, I worked as a snowmaker at two ski areas in the Mount Washington Valley, New Hampshire. I started at Attitash Ski Area inm Barlett, NH, in the summer of 1983 and that winter signed on to make snow. In 1986 I signed on as snowmaking manager at Black Mountain in Jackson, NH. It was a wonderful experience in my life. My friend and fellow snowmaker Ed Parsons, put it all quite well to words in the article he wrote. I must admit in re-typing the article, quite a few memories came back to me. So here is Ed’s article published the The Irregular – a popular local newspaper at the time.
By Ed Parsons
The silence of falling snow is a soothing aspect of a winter storm. But the maelstrom put to verse by singer/songwriter Bill Madison describes a storm of a different order:
“So listen up to what I’m telling you
When the snow starts flying all around you
Could it be coming from the skies above,
Or from the men with the rubber gloves?”
Madison, who is the season manager of snowmaking at Black Mountain, knows of what he writes, as also do the ten snowmaking technicians who work for him.
Snowmaking at Black is a 24 hour operation and on each of the overlapping nine hour shifts, the men experience a wide range of working conditions: intense periods of labor operating the snow guns; transporting equipment up and down the slopes; mountain solitude; and the warmth of their base headquarters, where they operate the pumps and compressors, and relax in their office lounge.
Some seasoned snowmakers come back year after year. Madison, who has made snow at Black Mountain for two years, previously worked at Attitash, where he said, “I learned to love it.”
Crew member Mike Pelletier, is a six-year veteran of Attitash and Black. Other crew, both veterans and new include: Scott Kruse, Mark Sandman, Tom Gagnon, Steve Briggs, Mark and Mike Mendonca, Lee Berwick, John Larson, Wally Brooks, Jack Benedick, Craig Squires and Alan (you gotta be smarter than the gun) Edmondson.
The snow guns they have mastered, (Which have a mind of their own when charged with 500psi of water and 110psi of air.) are twenty tripod type, “Omricrons”. These were purchased from John Mathewson of Norfork, Connecticut, when he installed the Black Mountain Snowmaking System in 1985.
“Mathewson also built Attitash’s system, and many others worldwide,” says Madison. “Including one in Spain.”
He notes that most people don’t realize that Black Mountain had the first snowmaking system in the Valley back in the 1950’s when a system was built on the Whitney Slope above the Inn that used 10 “Tey” guns!
“These were originally built by the government to test aircraft icing, and then ended up here as snow guns.” he grinned.
That early system used the pond across the road for the water supply. That hasn’t changed. Today the water is pumped from the pond to the pumphouse at the base of the slopes where two 200hp pumps force it at 680psi in two main lines up the mountain. Also, three 400 horsepower Ingersol Rand air compressors charge the adjoining air lines, giving the crew air/water combination needed for snowmaking on 90% of the slopes.
The art of snowmaking begins when they connect the guns to the pipe system using 2 inch fire hose with couplings. By adjusting the air/water ratio and the direction of the guns, they try to get the best amount of quality snow in the right place. The wind direction, temperature and humidity must be considered.
“I’ve made snow at 38 degrees in the sun,” said Madison, explaining that the dryness of the air at the time allowed freezing of the spray into snow. When on a colder but humid day, this wouldn’t happen.
The best time to make snow is in the cold of night when the maximum amount of water is mixed with air. The crew will make giant “wales” of snow for the groomers to blade out later. This is truly the time of the snowmaker: when the full moon is traversed by blue clouds and the lights of the Valley shine like jewels. For those that are up there tonight, Bill Madison sings:
“Snowmaker, keep your boots on tight,
Snowmaker, snowmaker, making snow all night”
(Verse is from “Snowmaker” a track off the new album, “Dance Hall Girls” (Saloon Records)
Bill Madison appears locally as a solo or with Them Fargo Brothers.
Here are two versions of the song Snowmaker. The first one was the first recorded and features Steve Dore on bass and lead guitar, Bruce Geiger on steel guitar and Dave Allen on drums. I’m playing rhythm guitar and singing the song, of course. The song was recorded by Chris Biggi at his Sunset Ridge Studio in the summer of 1984. This is my favorite version.
This is the version included on my album Dance Hall Girls and features Tex Goldberg on lead guitar and vocals, John Brancato on bass and vocals, and Dave Allen on drums. This version was also recorded by Chris Biggi at Sunset Ridge in the spring of 1986.
As was my custom back then, on the weekends I would play apres ski at the Shovel Handle Pub adjacent to Black Mountain – short walk from a day of snowmaking to the pub! LOL! Here I am with bassist John Brancato at the Shovel Handle.
I just found out about “Million Dollar Riff” so I signed up! Interesting format for sure.
Hope you found this post enjoyable!
To finish off, another favorite from Tyrone Schulace and his Pals – Their videos are pure magic!
And I’ll be playing Apres Ski tomorrow afternoon on Street Jelly for “Bill’s Happy Hour” at 5 PM EDT!
Thanks for viewing this post! Have a great weekend! Bill