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The little Aussie resort getting it done despite lack of natural snow

Anthony Sharwood, Wednesday June 23, 2021 - 13:13 EST

You've got to hand it to us Aussies. No snow? No worries. We'll make do with a meagre strip of slush and get on with having the best possible time we can.

The pic below is from Mt Baw Baw, a couple of hours out of Melbourne. It’s the smallest and lowest (in terms of  its summit elevation of just 1567m) of the mainland ski resorts, which means it struggles for natural snow more than most.

And while higher resorts further north received decent natural snowfalls earlier this month, old Bawbs got more or less squat. It has even been too warm most nights for traditional snowmaking, which requires subzero temps. But all is not lost!

Image: Hey, it's better than nothing. Source: ski.com.au.

Resorts like Baw Baw now have a new secret weapon against the fickle weather...

As you can see from this screen shot we captured several weeks ago, strange white mounds began to appear on Baw Baw's slopes before the season.

These were NOT, repeat not, caused by traditional snowmaking machines. So what exactly are they?

Image: The cold box is to the left of picture. Add a long hose and a nozzle on a tripod, and you've got yourself some pretty impressive mounds. Source: ski.com.au.

A bit of background…

Modern snowmaking technology evolved in the 1970s and took off worldwide in the 1980s.

In simple terms, you blast a mixture of water and compressed air into the subzero night air. The fine mist crystallises and settles on the ground in the form of a blanket of snow, which is close enough to the real thing.

But this is different…

A new technology has arrived allowing resorts to make a product called "flake ice".

Baw Baw makes it, as does the nearby cross-country ski area of Lake Mountain, Victoria’s largest ski resort Mt Buller, and the tiny snow play and beginner ski facility Corin Forest in the ACT, just outside Canberra.

Unlike traditional snowmaking, flake ice is generated inside a giant refrigerated box like a shipping container, then pneumatically blown outside into mounds, where it is then spread across the slopes.

Just like this. The image below shows Baw Baw today. The mounds have been levelled. Skiing and snowboarding on a limited scale is occurring. Well played, Baw Baw.

Image: Nice and uncrowded too! Source: Ski.com.au.

You can't cover a vast area of the slopes with flake ice.

But for first time visitors to the snow desperate to experience something even vaguely resembling snow when it's too warm for snowmaking and/or natural snowfalls, it does the trick nicely.

"It's not too dissimilar from what you get out of your freezer," explains Dane Liepens, managing director of Corin Forest Mountain Resort, just outside Canberra.

Corin Forest occupies a unique place in the Australian snow industry. Located at an altitude of 1200 metres just outside Namadgi National Park, it does receive occasional natural snowfalls each winter.

But it's too low to rely on natural falls, so Corin is the only Aussie resort that relies entirely on snowmaking to service its commercial toboggan slope and small beginner ski slope, which has one carpet lift.

The resort has eight conventional fan guns which make the bulk of its snow on the subzero nights which are common in the ranges around Canberra in winter. But Corin also has what Dane Liepens calls "all-weather snowmaking". As in, flake ice.

Image: Crank that baby for long enough periods, and you'll get yourself some mounds to be proud of. Source: Corin Forest Mountain Resort.

Corin Forest has nicknamed its flake ice (or all-weather snowmaking) machine "The Yeti".

"All-weather snowmaking is limited in its output," Liepens says. "The biggest machines in Australia can produce 200 cubic metres in 24 hours."

That's not much compared to a snowmaking fan gun operating in optimal conditions. But as mentioned, all-weather snowmaking has the advantage of being cranked into action as required, even if it's 10 degrees and sunny outside, or if it's raining.

"For all the resorts in Australia that are using it, all-weather snowmaking is one tool in the tool box of snow cover," Liepins says.

"It is really useful in bridging a gap in early season conditions when the expectation of consumers, once they reach the June long weekend or school holidays, is that there will be snow cover. It gives confidence to be people they can come and there will be a product on the ground."

Image: and here's your proof. Despite a run of warm-ish weather by June standards in the ACT, Corin is good to go. Source: ski.com.au.

But the key question: does it feel like snow?

"Yes it does feel like snow when it’s on the ground," Liepins says.

"After the groomers have gone over it and compacted it, it's like what you would find on any compacted groomed run in Australian conditions. It's certainly not powder snow, but with the bulk of what we ski on in Australia, you would hard pressed to tell the difference."

Meanwhile snow is forecast later in the week for the mainland ski resorts, though it'll take the snow line a while to drop, with widespread rain expected to develop on Wednesday evening into Thursday before things cool down enough for snow.

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