It’s already snowing at Berkshire East

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>New snow making machine at Berkshire East

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    New snow making machine at Berkshire East

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Darryl Cutter, Mountain Manager at Berkshire East, with one of the new snow making machines and their new snow grooming machine.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Darryl Cutter, Mountain Manager at Berkshire East, with one of the new snow making machines and their new snow grooming machine.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>New snow making machine at Berkshire East
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Darryl Cutter, Mountain Manager at Berkshire East, with one of the new snow making machines and their new snow grooming machine.

CHARLEMONT — If anyone has a white Christmas in Franklin County, you can bet it will be Berkshire East.

After investing at least $1 million in the latest snowmaking equipment, the Berkshire East Ski Area can now make three times as much snow as it has in the past.

“Technology has improved so dramatically, that as long as it’s cold, we’ll have winter — and we just spent $1 million to ensure that,” said Christopher Loftus, marketing director for Berkshire East.

“We have the capacity to produce 100 percent (snow) on our mountain,” he said.

With warm days and cold nights, snowmaking at the 400-acre ski resort started this week as a nighttime activity. But with colder temperatures on the way, the ski area should be open for the season next Friday with plenty of snow.

“Snowmaking is really important in this world,” says Loftus. “It’s a critical element to our success. People’s expectations for good snow are high, and we have to not only meet but exceed these expectations,” he said.

Using the “frosting on the cake” analogy, Loftus said that snow-making “is the cake” for a ski resort. And any natural snowfall “is the frosting.”

Improvements include a new water reservoir at the top of its summit, wider pipes to move water uphill, and new booster-pumps to increase water pressure. The stronger water pressure helps the snow guns more efficiently produce better-quality snow. Berkshire East also dug a new well, because water limitations in the past meant the ski area could only make snow for two to 2 1∕ 2 days before it had to shut down and wait for the water level to replenish.

Berkshire East also bought 22 new mobile snow guns and 33 new stationary snow guns.

Another investment was in a new Pinoth 350 trail groomer, which can push mounds of the new made snow over a wider swath of a trail. There are 45 ski trails on the resort, which employs about 185 people during the ski season.

Loftus said the decision to invest in new snowmaking equipment was mainly a result of last winter’s lack of natural snow and “the quest for producing the best snow in the region.”

“I’ve been skiing for 35 years,” he said, “and I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, that last year we had some of the best skiing conditions I’ve ever seen. But people were playing golf and tennis down the (Pioneer) Valley in February — because they didn’t have winter in their back yards.”

“Well, WE have winter,” said Loftus.

The first snowmaking effort takes between four to six “good days” of steady cold. Low humidity is also ideal for keeping the snow dry and powdery. The snow guns produce mounds of snow that are called “whales,” and they are whale-shaped. The whales get pushed over the trails by the snowcat tractors.

On a typical snowmaking night, there will be between four to six workers running anywhere from 35 to 75 snow guns at one time. He said the workers need to make sure the guns are pointed in the right direction, that the nozzles don’t get frozen, and that just the right amount of water is used.

“We are farmers of snow,” he said. “And just like any farmer, we are dependent on the weather. But we can make elements.”

“We are going to be ready this Christmas season, with better snow and more snow than you’ve seen in years,” he said.

“But we’re dependent upon cold weather.”

Two years ago, Berkshire East installed a $2.7 million, 900-kilowatt wind turbine on its grounds and it claims to be the first ski resort in the world to be fully powered by its own wind turbine generator. Before the wind turbine was installed, Berkshire East spent about $250,000 per year on electricity to run the snowmaking equipment and ski lifts.

Loftus said the new snowmaking equipment was purchased for the long-term sustainability of the ski resort. “We want to improve our product. We want to be just as good or better than the slopes up north,” he said. “We have to.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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