The owner of Royal Mountain ski center in Caroga Lake has purchased three new tower-mounted, fan-driven snow guns, which will allow him to open a third trail early in the ski season.
Jim Blaise said his goal is to open the “Queen” run sometime in early December, temperature permitting. Two of the massive guns are situated on the run itself and the third is at the point where the chairlifts unload skiers.
“The tower guns are more economical,” Blaise said, sitting in a four-wheel-drive vehicle at the 550-foot summit of Royal Mountain. “The key is to get trails open as early as you can.”
The new guns bring to 16 the number of machines capable of creating man-made snow during the season, which runs through April.
Ten of the guns are portable and have to be lugged up the mountain with snow groomers for operations. Three are tower guns, but do not have fans, meaning the snow they create falls directly downward. The fan-driven guns disperse snow over a larger area — two of them, for example, will cover one-third of the “Queen” trail.
“This is our widest trail,” Blaise said of Queen.
The guns, which cost slightly more than $20,000 apiece, will use 110 gallons of water per minute on full operation.
Blaise taps two ponds containing 6 million gallons of water to make snow. The ponds are spring-fed and use runoff from the mountain.
Royal Mountain has 14 trails spread over 100 acres. Using all his snow guns, Blaise will lay down a minimum 2-foot base on all but one trail and will then groom them flat.
“Our snow is always perfectly groomed by ‘Corduroy Joe,’ ” he said of an employee with 12 years’ experience.
Blaise has been using snow guns for 20 years, purchasing new guns almost annually. “Without the guns, we would only be open 10 days a year. With the guns, we are open 50 days,” he said. “Everything here is man-made.”
Even last year, when there was little natural snow, Royal Mountain had an excellent season, he said.
“A good day for us is 400 to 500 skiers,” he said.
Blaise said his market is primarily skiers from Fulton and Montgomery counties, but now he is starting to see skiers from Oneonta and Cooperstown. “Skiers are looking for a family-oriented ski area and a place that has snow,” he said.