Let It Snow! Or, at Least, Make It Snow, Should None Come Naturally

European ski resorts are struggling to open their slopes after a warm, dry autumn. Will the machines provide?

It's getting to be winter, and Europeans are ready to ski! Unfortunately for them, they're going to have to wait. An unseasonably warm and dry autumn has spelled difficulty for the continent's ski resorts. Some resorts, such as Davos in Switzerland, are plowing ahead, trying their best to create the snow nature has withheld.

Snow-making machines were developed by three engineers in Connecticut, who, using some common household supplies, were able to create 20 inches of snow. One of the men, Wayne Pierce, patented their invention. Today, snow-making systems are expensive for resorts to install (tens of thousands of dollars) and operate, because of high energy costs, typically accounting for the largest portion of a resort's costs after labor. Ski-mountain operators rely on the machines to extend the natural ski season into the fall and spring, no longer accepting the traditional 70-day ski season as sufficient.

But snow machines can only do so much. If it's warm out, they're pretty much useless hoses, spraying water into the sky. Many resorts have postponed their opening dates, and are stuck waiting until temperatures fall.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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