Zermatt: Let it snow!

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 means snow sport on 365 days a year, in summer on the Theodul Glacier, in winter on 360 kilometres of pistes! Piste preparations for the winter season get into full swing from the end of September/beginning of October. The main tool here is the Snowmaker, a massive snow machine that even produces snow at temperatures above freezing point.

Pioneering machine for Zermatt

The snow machine is the further development of a desalination system that originated in Israel around 30 years ago. From this desalination system, engineers from the Israeli company IDE constructed a large cooling plant used in South African gold mines. The waste product from this air cooler – similar to a refrigerator – is snow and ice. From here, it was no great technical step for the innovative engineers to create a snow-making system.

Contact between Zermatt and the Israeli company was first made in 2003 and Zermatt took delivery of the world’s first Snowmaker in 2008. A second machine was delivered to the Pitztal ski region in Austria shortly afterwards.

Snow formed by a vacuum

But how does such a snow-making system work? 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.

Ski tests – ushering in winter

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.”

So this means it’s high time to hit the pistes! From the end of every September, Zermatt Bergbahnen AG and Zermatt Tourism team up to offer ski-test packages, an attractive deal for snow-sport fans who want to test new gear. The packages include two overnight stays, a two-day skipass, two days of ski tests with new skis as well as tips and tricks from licensed ski instructors (see link below).

Demonstrations possible

Anyone wanting to see how snow is made in Zermatt can take part in a Snowmaker explanation tour – available for groups from 10 persons only and with telephone reservation (free of charge) at Zermatt Bergbahnen AG. Tel. +41 27 966 01 01

Snowmaker, technical data

Weight of the vacuum chamber  30 tons
Height of machine 11 metres
Time required to create vacuum approx. 2,5 hours
Days of Snowmaker use approx. 10 - 14 days in early autumn
Days of Snowmaker use per year approx. 20 days
Snow production per day 1900 tons (at 3000 kW)
Energy expenditure per m3 snow 5 – 6 kW
Weight of snow per m3 500 – 600 kg

Further measures for good piste quality

A total of more than 65 per cent of Zermatt pistes can be provided with technical snow

Technical snowing by lances and low-pressure machines more than 800 snow generators
Number of snowcats used 
in the Zermatt ski region