The opening of the ski slopes is not completely in the hands of Mother Nature, and for that you can thank Dr. Ray Ringer. Ringer was not actually trying to invent a way to extend the ski season. His discovery of snowmaking is another happy accident.
Ray Ringer was working with other Canadian scientists to study the effects of rime ice on jet engines. An attempt to reproduce natural weather conditions lead to the discovery of how to make snow. The scientists were spraying water into the air of a low temperature wind tunnel right before a jet engine intake to create rime ice on the aircraft. Instead of creating ice, they kept making snow. The jet engines and the wind tunnel had to be shut down regularly to shovel away the powder.
Ringer and the other researchers were not interested in making snow so they never applied for a patent on the snowmaking. They did publish their research about jet engines in scientific journals. These publications would eventually lead to the invention of the snowmaking machine.
The first commercial snowmaking machine was invented by three men with a ski manufacturing company in Connecticut. Art Hunt, Wayne Pierce and Dave Richey, partners in the Tey Manufacturing Corporation, were experiencing a slump in sales of their skis due to a snowless winter and became interested in the idea of ski slopes having perpetual snow. Wayne Pierce had an idea for making snow based on the same principal as Ringer’s successful snowmaking. He knew that if you blew droplets of water through freezing air, the water would turn into snowflakes. Pierce and his partners created such a machine that would create snow with a paint spray compressor, nozzle and some garden hose.
In December 1949, Hunt, Pierce and Richey tested their snowmaking machine at Mohawk Mountain in Cornwall, CT. After this successful test, the mountain became the first to install a snowmaking system. Between 1950 and 1951, Mohawk Mountain installed the first snowmaking system which was a collaboration between Tey Manufacturing and an agricultural irrigation company, Larchmont Farms of Lexington MA. Tey provided the nozzles and Larchmont Farm provided the pipe. The first weekend, the snow system produced three inches of manmade snow each night.
The Tey Manufacturing applied for a patent on December 14, 1950. They received Patent #2676471 on April 27, 1954 for Method For Making And Distributing Snow. Larchmont Farms ultimately bought the patent for the snowmaking systems. Using the patent rights, they began suing other snowmaker manufacturers. These complaints led to the contesting of the patent. The patent was then overthrown based on the Canadian research. Ray Ringer and the research team were officially called the inventors of the snow machine.
Snowmaking technology has continued to evolve while the basic idea behind snowmaking has stayed the same. Today most ski resorts around the world make snow and there are even indoor skiing and sledding areas. Making all of that snow takes a lot of water. It takes about 75,000 gallons of water to cover a 200×200-foot area with 6-inches of snow. An average snowmaking system, can convert 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of water to snow every minute!