SnowPlan™ – The Program

SnowPlan is a computer programme that enables users to simulate the effects of a planned snowmaking system on the snow cover of trails covered by snowmaking and on the business figures of the ski area.

On the basis of weather records of the respective area, the snowmaking system design and several other important parametres, SnowPlan calculates the daily snowcover for every regarded trail and especially takes into account the snowmelt. This serves as a base for the caluclation of operational costs, possible skier numbers and revenues. SnowPlan was developed in cooperation with the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, Davos and Technoalpin, Bolzano

What benefit does SnowPlan offer?

So far in many cases the design of snowmaking systems is driven by the avaible financial ressources ("What do I get for 150.000 $?) or a technical specification of the system capacity ("How many guns do I need to put one feet of snow on the trails in 50 hours?").

SnowPlan gives an answer to a different question:
Which system design enables me to maximize the return of the total investment that includes snowmaking, lifts, services etc.?

Based on the results determined by SnowPlan statement regarding the impact of the investment in a snowmaking system on the local and regional economy are possible.

Moreover the results determined by SnowPlan allow to work out a business plan with figures that are scientifically validated and checked.

Therefore SnowPlan offers the following benefits:

  • Ski area operators have a much better standing when asking for financing of an investment into a snowmaking system since the assumptions regarding the future business are based on more precise figures that are scientifically validated.

  • Bad planning can be avoided because either systems that are planned too large or to small don't maximize the return on investment, the key figure SnowPlan takes into account.

  • SnowPlan doesn't only determine, how much snow could be produced in how many hours but also shows, based on the respective weather records, whether and with which probability the referring system would have guaranteed the snow during key periods of the season (e.g. Christmas holidays).

  • SnowPlan is easy to work with and immediately displays the results of planning adjustments (e.g. different guns, water pumping capacity, snowmaking periods etc.). That allows to analyze existing snowmaking systems with SnowPlan in order to check the effect of a possible rejunevation of the existing arsenal of guns.

  • SnowPlan saves more money than it costs. Either in investment costs because SnowPlan shows that the targets (e.g. uninterrupted operation from late December to March) can even be achieved with a less expensive system than originally planned, or during operations when only two or three additional days of operation (that can easily be achieved with a well planned system) during the whole lifetime of the system can bring in the costs of SnowPlan.

  • SnowPlan includes the whole ski area in the calculations and does not see the snow making system as an isolated component. This will demonstrate further potential for improvements.

  • SnowPlan is valuable when dealing with planning authorities or government agencies who allocate subsidies. It is also an excellent PR and marketing tool, as it provides all the facts which are necessary for successful presentations and negotiations.

  • By demonstrating the regional economical effects as well as the consideration of investment and running costs, in a lot of cases it is possible to argue for the viability of the project because the profits of the snow making system are socialized while the running costs are privatized.

Who can use Snowplan?

SnowPlan is a computer programme which enables the user to calculate the effects of a snow making system not just for the snow cover but also for the potential return on investment on the basis of extensive parameters and especially the climate situation. There are three potential users of SnowPlan, all with different questions that can be answered by the programme:

  1. Ski areas planning a system in low mountain regions or with difficult climatic patterns
    SnowPlan was originally developed as a planning tool for a ski area project in a low mountain region in Germany that has a great market potential but not enough natural snowfall and difficult climatic patterns. It was designed to answer the question of whether the project would be feasible with the aid of snowmaking. Snowplan answered the question of whether snowmaking would have been possible at all. Especially important was to clarify whether there would have been snow during the key periods of the season (Christmas, Carnival).

  2. Ski areas planning a system in high alpine regions or with regularly cold weather patterns
    These areas may face financing problems. They could use the results of SnowPlan to convince local business partners to join an investor group or to convince the authorities of the positive effects the snowmaking system would have on the regional economy.

  3. Ski areas that already have a snowmaking system
    SnowPlan can help to increase the efficiency of the system by simulating the effectiveness and cost/operation implications of different snow guns or changing other parameters.

What does it cost?

Nothing! The simple idea of SnowPlan is that it saves a lot more money than it will cost to perform an analysis with the aid of it. The cost of an analysis with SnowPlan ranges from 1,0 to 1,5% of the cost for the installation of the respective snowmaking system. There are several ways how SnowPlan can save this money while building or operating the system:

  • In the planning stage SnowPlan can help to downsize the project without loosing efficiency. Savings of up to 10% of the investment cost are possible.

  • A system layout optimised with SnowPlan can help to achieve more skiing days especially during the key periods of the season. Depending on the size of a ski area and the snowmaking system only one to three additional days of operation can save the cost of an analysis with SnowPlan.

  • Moreover SnowPlan can serve as a basis for an efficiency analysis of the whole ski area. It can also serve for an analysis of a change of the snowmaking policy (early season base production or frequent enhancement of surface quality). This is especially interesting for ski areas located in dry, cold climates where problems with maintaining the snow quality on the trails arise.

How does SnowPlan work?

Before Snowplan gives any output it needs a lot of input. The most important input are weather records: e.g. temperature, humidity, precipitation and radiation (several records per day). If there is no weather data available from weather stations located close to the ski area site it is necessary to make own measurements for at least one winter. Afterwards the captured data can be related to long term records (ten years are sufficient) of an official weather station. In addition to the weather records the following parameters are captured:

  • acreage, exposition, inclination and terrain characteristics of trails
  • type, number and performance of snowguns
  • type and location of hydrants
  • snowmaking periods (dates, hours)
  • water pumping capacity
  • water supply (reservoir, river, water temperatures, cooling systems, regulations)
  • various costs (energy, labour, permits, maintenance etc.)
  • capital costs, interest rates, taxes
  • current and/or planned ticket sales and price structures
  • type, cost structure and operation parameters of lifts adjacent to snowmaking trails
  • minimum and targeted snowcover for every spot
  • etc.

On the basis of these parameters SnowPlan calculates the snowcover on every single spot of the trails covered with snowmaking for every day of the season. The most complex part of this calculation is the snowmelt, which is based on a module that was developed in cooperation with Dr. Walter Ammann of the SLF (Eidgenössisches Schnee- und Lawinenforschungsinstitut) in Davos/Switzerland. In addition to and/or on the basis of the snowcover SnowPlan calculates the following results:

  • investment cost for the system
  • financing costs
  • depreciation
  • energy consumption of the snowmaking system
  • operational hours of the system
  • amount of snow production, cost per cbm of snow
  • possibility of operation of lifts and trails (additional days of operation)
  • operational costs (including labour, lifts, grooming, ticket sales etc.)
  • expected skiers per day based also on day (weekday/weekend) and time of season (month/holidays)
  • income
  • feasibility.

SnowPlan is used as a tool for analysis of the results of which are presented to the customer. However, the customer initially receives a version where he can change a lot of the listed parameters in order to check possible alternatives. So far SnowPlan has been used exclusively for projects in Germany where several customers were able to get the necessary permits or financing for their snowmaking systems only thanks to an analysis based on SnowPlan.