The snow wizards
The development of snow-making systems in the Val d’Ega is the story of innovations that began in the little village of Obereggen and that have now spread worldwide thanks to the expertise of a number of resourceful minds: making perfect snow to ensure superb conditions on the slopes. We talk to Thomas Ondertoller from the Obereggen Latemar company.
Snow joke? No way! How it all began…
In the early 1980s two innovative employee of the Obereggen ski area set themselves a tall order: “We are to make our own snow!” Working on their own, Walter Rieder and Georg Eisath came up with a prototype for producing perfect snow to respond to the winter temperatures of the southern Dolomites. As a start they simply repurposed individual farm machinery components.
Thomas Ondertoller recounts that the Obereggen AG company bought the first snow guns in 1982 and thus secured the further development of the “snow-makers”. The TechnoAlpin company was subsequently founded in 1990 together with Erich Gummerer and the “Latemar M90” model with its promise of white slopes was launched on the market.
Considerable investment was made in research and development from the very beginning and, although at first it was mainly the surrounding ski areas that showed interest, TechnoAlpin's snow-making systems gradually conquered the world. With its seven branches, 18 trade partners and around 600 employees, the company is a major global player when it comes to piste technology. In the vast Ski Center Latemar alone there are no fewer than 200 snow-making systems in use, able to cover a “cool” 100% of the surface area with so-called compact snow.
In addition to snow cannons, TechnoAlpin now also produces snow lances and the Snowfactory, a snow-maker for warm temperatures.
One whiter-than-white detail: in 2018 this successful company constructed its legendary 111,111th snow gun (now there’s a number!).
H2O and air = compact snow
Compact snow is one thing above all others: natural! “It consists of just two components, namely frozen water particles and air”, explains Thomas Ondertoller. “The water is mixed with compressed air in the specially designed nozzles to make so-called seed crystals. A blower projects these over the pistes where they ‘grow’.” The result, dense compact snow, is similar to grainy old snow in its structure and is ideal for the preparation of top-quality slopes.
“This snow is so clean that…
…I would have no problem eating it!” This or something similar was likely said by local hero and winter sports pioneer Erwin Stricker before he summarily pushed a lump of compact snow into his mouth and “ate” it. “In this way he surely persuaded even the most die-hard of sceptics”, grins Thomas Ondertoller. And indeed, in collaboration with TechnoAlpin, the public is kept informed about the snow-making systems.
Snow-making according to a system!
TechnoAlpin was quick to recognise that even the best snow-making equipment can only work as part of an integrated system. The team thus today concentrates on individually developed all-round solutions that include planning, installation and service. This also means taking account of the surrounding areas, with exact and expert knowledge of wind conditions, sun traps and more shaded areas all required.
The five water reservoirs for the snow-making systems are located far above the Val d’Ega, with a capacity of some 302,500 cubic metres: they are fed throughout the year solely by rainfall and melt-water, making it unnecessary to pump water uphill. The gravity of the purest H2O is harnessed here, with the water flowing down unassisted ant in part to the snow guns.
The greener side
This water benefits not only the pistes, but also the natural surroundings. As moisture trickles into the ground throughout the winter season, this means that the deeper layers of earth are also supplied with water. Recent decades have shown that these “piste meadows” produce lusher vegetation during the warmer months than “non-piste” areas, with an additional harvest even possible, says Thomas Ondertoller.
No snow? No way!
Not every winter enjoys the heavy snowfall seen in 2016 and 2017, for example. As the Latemar Obereggen AG/SpA company works closely with other local businesses and aims to reassure visitors who are planning holidays, it guarantees that the winter season will begin in the last days of November and end only after Easter - thanks to its snow-making systems and the continuous interaction of natural snow, compact snow and the regular grooming of the pistes!
During the season the job of preparing the pistes begins every night as soon as the slopes are closed. Large numbers of snow crawlers push the snow back uphill, all working as quickly as possible in shifts to give the snow plenty of time to firm up overnight.
Always taking the lead
While snow-making is big business, the company is also fully aware of the need to make sustainable use of natural resources. George Weissensteiner, president and a founding member of Obereggen Latemar AG/SpA, knows that dialogue and vision, courage and innovative strength can only be successfully applied if there exists an awareness of the environment. The secrets of the firm’s snowy success in the Val d’Ega depend above all on its willingness to co-operate combined with a deep appreciation of existing resources.
And did you know… ?
… that Obereggen has received numerous awards - among other things on account of its excellent pistes? Find out more here!
is a blogger and content scout for the Content- und Social-Media-Marketing Agency clicktext in Southtyrol.
She loves the path from the atoms to the Dolomites, from the people to the stories and from the
experienced to the reports.