How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

Ski season and crap tons of snow don't always coincide with one another in the way resorts would like. That means they have to use the power of machines to manufacture snow. The resort of Zermatt, Switzerland, does that on a polar vortex-like scale, thanks to 1,000 machines pumping out 7 megawatts of power for oodles of artificial fresh powder.

How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

Most of the machines are low-pressure systems called lances (see above). They can only be used when temperatures are below freezing—which, in a way, defeats their point in the first place.

But one machine in particular—the Snowmaker—is basically a giant goddamn air conditioning unit that can be used even when the temperatures climb above freezing (see below).

How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

It was originally developed to cool South African mines, and produces snow in a vacuum process similar to that of extracting salt or other minerals from water. Snow is just a by-product of the cooling process.

So what does the Snowmaker do and why is a resort like Zermatt using it? Aside from the fact that it works in balmier weather (meaning longer ski seasons! more powder to boast of! better conditions!), it puts snow on a gap on the mountainside that is particularly susceptible to the sun and, thus, to melted snow.

How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

From a nearly 40 foot-high vacuum chamber, it creates snow and dumps it down a gully, where snowcats pick up the white stuff and pack it onto the bald spots.

Oh, and this one machine? It can crank out as much as 400 metric tons of snow per hour.

How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

The entire system—Snowmaker, low pressure machines, and typical fan machines that you've probably seen scattered about American ski resorts—is supplied by a massive underground plumbing network that runs throughout the mountain. The faux winter precipitation is supplied by reservoirs on the side of the mountain, and the system is controlled by one central office.

Individual machines can be activated by a central computer network that monitors all kinds of climatic and atmospheric conditions on the mountain. Anything, in the name of knee-deep powder.

How a Giant Underground Air Conditioner Supplies Zermatt With Snow

Photos courtesy Kyle Buchanan and Danny Lane