Zermatt is playing its trump card – the Snowmaker – so that skiers and snowboarders can take to good pistes in the early days of winter as well. The snow machine produces snow regardless of temperature, even above freezing point. And so a good snow base can be laid in early autumn to ensure perfect pistes in winter.
Zermatt Bergbahnen was the first ski resort to order a new kind of artificial snow system: the IDE’s All Weather Snowmaker. Later Pitztal Gletscherbahnen was the second Company to order, following Zermatt’s footsteps, the snowmaker. IDE Technologies is a world leader and pioneer in water desalination, wastewater concentrators and purifiers. The snowmaking technology comes from the mining industry where it is used to cool the goldmines.
CEO Zermatt Bergbahnen Christen Baumann explains how it works: "To put it simply it works like a freezer. The temperature of the surrounding air is irrelevant. In a closed container with a diameter of 3.2m and a height of 10m, water is exposed to a vacuum without any additives. A small portion vaporizes, the remaining water freezes to snow, which is afterwards expelled at a rate of about 40 cubic metres every hour. The snow produced has the consistency of a wet spring snow".
The technology is based on a principle of physics whereby water placed in a vacuum will immediately partly evaporate – without having to reach boiling point. However, the energy needed for evaporation must come from somewhere. In this case, the evaporating water extracts this energy from the remaining water, which is appreciably cooled and thus crystalizes. This crystalized water is thus snow, similar to spring snow, and is used for piste preparation. A transport spiral shoots the snow out to the waiting snowcats. These then distribute the snow in early autumn, as for example between the Theodul Glacier and the summit station of Trockener Steg.
The Snowmaker is used for around 14 days in early autumn for about two to three weeks. Then it is in operation around the clock. The machine is also used systematically in winter and spring, depending on weather and snow conditions.
Kurt Guntli from the Zermatt Bergbahnen AG is the project manager for the huge machine. "Thanks to the Snowmaker we can guarantee the route from the Theodul Glacier to Trockenen Steg from as early as the beginning of October".