An Inside Look at Steamboat Snowmaking

BlogDel Snowmaking

The war on summer is just beginning for Steamboat snowmakers.

The ski season is nearly upon us and as the overnight temperatures begin to drop, Steamboat snowmakers are gearing up for another great year. We caught up with one of the mountain’s most passionate snowmakers to talk all things winter. Pierce ‘Del’ Delhaute, born and raised in Steamboat Springs, is a Snowmaking Technician and Supervisor for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp and has been for the last 11 years.

How did you get into snowmaking?

I grew up in Steamboat and have been skiing since I was three. I left for a few years to take night classes in Phoenix, but eventually returned to Steamboat. After becoming accustomed to those hours, I went to a job fair looking for a night job, which led me to snowmaking. I had been warned that it wouldn’t be an easy job, but I accepted the challenge. The first year was rough, and I wasn’t sure if I would go back for a second year. It wasn’t until the first year was over that I realized how much I had grown to love it.  It’s oddly addicting.

What do you love most about it?

I love the chaos; it’s unpredictable and ever changing. Things are ultimately going to go wrong and it takes the ability to problem solve in order to fix them when they do. Everyone’s opinions and ideas are valued; sometimes a first-year snowmaker has a solution to a problem that no one else thought of. One night, we suddenly needed to make a ton of snow in one spot and the gun we were using wasn’t working well. We crossed the gun in the path of a fan gun and were able to make a school bus sized whale in one night.

Tell us about your crews.

Steamboat has about 50 snowmakers that work on 4 main crews and run 138 guns across the mountain. Their main goal is to manage the quality of the snow produced and the function of each gun. The crews work in 12 hours shifts over a 24-hour period. As long as the temperature is below 25 degrees, we will be out there making snow.

Each crew is its own family. When you’re working a dangerous job it’s important to be there for each other; we’re responsible for each other’s lives. By being a snowmaker, you form an unbreakable bond and are forever part of the family.

Would you say there is an art to it?

It’s an evolving art. Each snowmaker has an opportunity to create the snow piles in their own way. We like to refer to the different shapes of the piles in terms of sea creatures: whale, dolphin, stingray, and narwhal to name a few. It’s a way of maneuvering the guns to create shapes that allows each snow maker to add their own uniqueness to it.

We also have the ability to make different types of snow based on the run we’re on. On the racecourses, we make a wetter snow that turns to ice quickly giving the course the base that it needs for the race.

How has the technology changed since you started?

There are more guns and they’re more efficient now than when I first started. The efficiency of the guns is measured on a meter of kilowatts per gallon. Essentially, you want to use more water than air. Air uses the most energy, so by using less of it, we are reducing our carbon footprint.

The goal of each shift is to max out the pump system, which can pump 5,600 gallons of water per minute at its maximum. We pump the water from the Yampa River all the way through the pump systems at the base of Heavenly Days and Buddy’s Run. At the end of the ski season when the snow melts, the water flows back into the Yampa River. We like to think of it as water storage. We’re moving the water to the mountain for winter and it goes back to the river in the spring.

What makes Steamboat an ideal place to make snow?

Steamboat has a great retention rate for employees in snowmaking and our morale is unparalleled. Snowmaking is an experience that gets people hooked. Our crews work incredibly hard and take pride in the quality of snow that they produce. Each year we set seemingly unreachable goals and each year our teams go the extra mile to exceed those goals.

There is purity to making snow in Steamboat. We ride on the same snow that we make, its quality control at its finest.

To truly experience Steamboat snowmaking and see the crews in action you can watch videos here.