SNOWMAKING TRAILS
KINCAID PARK, ANCHORAGE, AK

by Tim Brabets

The Kincaid snowmaking system has been operated by the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage (NSAA) since the winter of 2014-15. The snowmaking system is used to place snow on approximately 6 kilometers of trail in the park. Snowmaking usually begins in mid-November and if weather conditions are favorable it will take 20-25 days to cover the trails. One may see many lances and fan guns operating when they visit the park. To provide an overview/guide to the snowmaking loops the following explains the approach the NSAA operations staff (OPS) uses in creating the trails. One should also check the NSAA website to get daily updates (www.anchoragenordicski.com/trails/).

When snowmaking begins, the groomers work on 2 specific goals. First, complete the green loop (approximately 0.9 km) as quick as possible and second, get snow into the Lower and Lekisch tunnels. If weather conditions are favorable, the green loop can be completed in 3-4 days and be ready for skiing.

When the green loop is completed the groomers focus on completing the yellow loop and connecting it to the green loop. This loop consists of a single trail or ‘ribbon’ through the stadium and the Lekisch tunnel to connect with the trails in the biathlon stadium. It will take 3-4 days to complete and when finished, approximately 1.9 km is available for skiing on the combined green and yellow loops.

The stadium and the trails around Gong Hill and behind the biathlon range (turquoise trails) are next. The stadium is a large area (between 2 and 3 acres) and 3-4 fan guns are used simultaneously for approximately 1 week to cover the entire area. While working on the stadium, the groomers are also working on the turquoise trails on Gong Hill and behind the biathlon range. When completed these trails add an additional 0.9 km to the trail system.

After the stadium is complete grooming efforts are focused on the trails north of the chalet. The purple trails are completed first, followed by the blue trails. Snowmaking in this area usually takes a week and when completed, these trails add another 2.2 km to the trail system.

Beginning in the winter of 2019-20, NSAA modified 2 lances to accommodate the use of fan guns so snow could be placed on the black trail (which consists of the Lower Roller Coaster and Dark Alley trails). This trail is covered last and adds an additional 0.8 km to the trail system.

Who decides when it’s time to make snow?

The NSAA Operations staff will decide when it’s time to make snow and will base their decision on two factors. First, the conditions must be favorable and sustainable and second, the resources must be used responsibly; water, electricity, labor and your money.  “Favorable” conditions aren’t just about the temperatures being cold enough. Other aspects such as humidity and wind must also be considered.   We’ll be setting our parameters according to this chart below showing the variable snow making conditions:

How is the snowmaking loop created?

Once we start making snow, the first step is to create a foundation of snow in the Bunker area and on the two trails that lead to the snowmaking loop.  This insures that the Pisten Bullys are kept free of dirt.  Then, depending on the weather (particularly the wind) we will seek to construct a “skiable loop” and then expand to bigger loops through the stadiums and Nordic Hill.  Finally, we’ll head over and make a loop up to the Chalet.  The groomers will make, mound, push and spread snow as they go throughout the loop and follow up with grooming.

Would it be possible to fire up the snowmaking system in late October (temperature permitting, of course) to make an early season loop?

NSAA intends to start making snow as soon as it appears that the snowmaking efforts will last the season.  Snowmaking is expensive and it takes a lot of labor and a lot of power.  Once we are confident that our resources will be used responsibly and efficiently, we will begin.

Is the system seen as a tool to lay down a base of firm snow for the whole winter, or seen more as a backup in case nature doesn’t produce?

Our intention is to use the system to lay down a firm first layer.  Throughout the season, the stadium and snowmaking loop require frequent reconfiguring due to the needs of multiple events.  An artificial base, even when there is natural snow, will add the durability required to endure this constant manipulation.

How much time is invested in making snow?

A lot! Manufacturing snow is not only costly, it’s very time consuming. Last winter the snow making equipment (fan guns, lances, compressors, well pumps and high pressure pumps) ran collectively for 4,092 hours. Our paid staff worked 520 hours, including overtime, while our “free” help volunteered 300 hours. We sure appreciate our volunteers!

When and how much snow did NSAA make last winter?

For the 2019/2020 snowmaking season, NSAA made snow on 21 days…3 days in November, 13 days in December, 3 days in January, and 2 days in February.  We began on November 25 and finished on February 14.  Last winter we used 3.7 million gallons of water which was above the 6-year average of 3.3 million gallons.

Who owns and operates the snowmaking system?

The snowmaking system is a public asset in a municipal park.  It is operated and maintained by NSAA and MOA Parks and Recreation through a co-operative use agreement.

What is the operating cost of the snowmaking system?

The operating cost for the 2019/2020 season was approximately $140,000. A breakdown of the costs are as follows: $49,000 (35%) for power, $38,000 (27%) for NSAA equipment (Pisten Bully snow cats and snow machines), $31,000 (22%) for Snow Making equipment, $18,000 (13%) for NSAA labor and $4,000 (3%) for water.

Who pays for the operation and maintenance of the system?

NSAA bears the burden of operating the snowmaking system and the MOA, Parks and Recreation Maintenance, bears the burden of operating the irrigation system and covers the cost of power.  Last season, a high volume pump in well #2 needed to be replaced and repairs critical on a cracked hydrant valve deep in the ground.  We would like to acknowledge the Alaska Community Foundation (ACF)/Kincaid endowment for covering the costs of the repairs to well #2 (about $16,000) and hydrant 204 (about $6,000) as well as the anonymous contributor who donated $7,500 specifically for the repairs to well #2.  NSAA is grateful for and appreciative of your generosity and support…thank you!

Where does the funding for NSAA snowmaking come from?

Historically, NSAA membership, program and event fees have been kept at affordable levels, with hopes of being accessible to all parts of our community.  To be sustainable and to fully utilize the potential of snowmaking equipment, NSAA’s fee structure for events will begin to reflect the true costs that we are facing.  Additionally, special fundraisers will be held specifically for snowmaking.

Can I volunteer to help operate the snowmaking system?

Yes you can!  Last winter, 300 hours of volunteer labor was utilized to operate the snowmaking system. Email operations@anchoragenordicski.com with your interest.

Do I need special training and/or skills to volunteer?

There is a special place and level of responsibility for almost everyone interested in helping. Some volunteer positions will require a little training from our staff, such as learning to set up the Fan Guns.  Each one has its own on-board computer that must be set each time the Gun is relocated.   Other volunteer positions just require willingness and a good attitude.  The most laborious duties involve monitoring the equipment for icing, shoveling buried hoses and cables due to a change in the wind and checking for leaks and engine failures.
Some basic requirements to volunteer are:

-Have a set of warm clothes
-Know how to operate a snow machine (NSAA will train if necessary)
-Be able to help at odd hours (weekends, evenings, possibly overnight).  We have to deal with Mother Nature…when it gets cold; we make snow no matter what time it is.
-Be able to deal with boredom for long periods of time, interjected with moments of frantic chaos and problem solving.

Where did the snowmaking system come from?

This system was designed and manufactured by TechnoAlpin, located in Bolzano, Italy.

Does the snowmaking system need to be run manually or can it be run automatically?

The snowmaking system is run by computer software and can be programmed to turn on and off automatically according to the temperature or the time of day.  We can also program the system to run either one or many fan guns or lances.  However, we always have a few people present when we’re making snow to take care of problems when they arise.  For example, if the water filter in one of the fan guns is plugged, that gun will automatically shut down.  Someone on site then needs to service the fan gun to get it back into operation.  Also, wind speed and direction constantly change at Kincaid and someone has to be on site to make adjustments to the fan guns and/or lances.  Having several people on site who are constantly making rounds to check the equipment during snowmaking ensures that the quality of snow produced is appropriate for the temperatures and trail base development.

Is it possible to dig and line a snowmaking pond somewhere at Kincaid?

It probably is and a pond is being explored as one option.  Keep in mind that adding more infrastructures will create more responsibility and ultimately will require more money to maintain.

Where does the water for snowmaking come from?

Two wells were drilled at Kincaid Park specifically for the snowmaking project.  The wells currently produce 150 gallons of water per minute, which is less than 1/3 of its designed capacity.   In order to operate the snowmaking system fully and efficiently, we need 400 gallons per minute.

What are the plans for future expansion and capacity improvements?

At this point, our goal is to complete and maintain the current system while developing consistent and sustainable funding to operate it.  Next, we will endeavor to improve the water supply and pending those results, only then would we implement the “Master Plan” consisting of additional loops.

Questions?

Have other questions that should be posted? Want to volunteer for snowmaking? Send them to opsupport@anchoragenordicski.com