By Mary Bellis
Snow by definition is "crystallized ice particles having the physical integrity and the strength to maintain their shape". Normally created by Mother Nature, but when Mother Nature does not deliver and snow is needed for commercial ski resorts, moviemaking, crop protection or for any other reason, that's when the snowmakers step in.
The First Machine Made Snow
In a low temperature laboratory in Canada, the effects of rime icing on the intake of a jet engine was being studied. Lead by a Dr. Ray Ringer, the researchers in an effort to reproduce natural conditions, were spraying water into the air just before the engine intake in a wind tunnel. They did not create any rime ice but they did make snow and they had to regularly shut down the engine and the wind tunnel to shovel out the snow. Uninterested in inventing a snowmaking machine, no patents were filed by the laboratory researchers. The research published in scientific journals, was made prior to any other claim to snowmaking technology.
Wayne Pierce was in the ski manufacturing business along with his two partners, Art Hunt and Dave Richey. The Tey Manufacturing Company of Milford, Connecticut was formed in 1947. They sold a new ski design - the ALU-60 was an aluminum ski with a hollow interior and three layers of metal bonded together. In 1949, the company was hit hard by a slump in ski sales, the result of dry snowless winter.
"I know how to make snow!" were the words spoken by inventor/engineer, Wayne Pierce, on March 14, 1950. Pierce came to work on that March morning, with an idea that if you could blow droplets of water through freezing air, the water would then turn into frozen hexagonal crystals, aka snowflakes. Using a paint spray compressor, nozzle and some garden hose, Pierce and his partners created a machine that created snow. The company was granted a basic-process patent and installed a few of their snowmaking machines, but they did not take their snowmaking business too far. In 1956, the three partners sold their company and patent rights to the Emhart Corporation.
US Patent 2676471 issued April 1954
Joe Tropeano, the owner of the Larchmont Irrigation Company of Boston Mass, had once worked with the Tey Manufacturing Company helping them with the installation snowmaking machines. Tropeano later bought the Tey patent and commenced to make and develop snowmaking equipment.
In the 60's, Tropeano and Larchmont started to sue other makers of snowmaking machinery. The Tey patent was then contested and overthrown on the basis on the Canadian research, which had proceeded the patent granted to Wayne Pierce.
In 1958, Alden Hanson filed a patent for a new type of snowmaking machine, the fan snowmaker. The earlier Tey patent was a compressed air and water machine, which had some drawbacks, noise, energy demands, etc. In 1961, Hanson was issued a patent for the use of a fan, particulate water and the optional use of a nucleating agent (dirt particles). Hanson patent is considered the pioneer patent for all fan snowmaking machines. Hanson also developed the Hanson ski boot and the Flofit for the Lange ski boot.
U.S. Patent #2,968,164 issued January 1961
On June 11, 1969, inventors Erikson, Wollin, and Zaunier (Lamont Labs, Columbia University)) filed a patent (which became know as the Wollin patent). It was for a specially developed rotating fan blade that was impacted with water from the rear, resulting in mechanically atomized water leaving the front which froze and became snow. To prevent any patent infringement dispute with the Hanson patent, the manufacturers of the snowmaking machine based on the Wollin patent, Snow Machines International (SMI) founded by Bill Gilbert who had aided the Lamont researchers, signed licensing agreements with both the Hanson and Wollin patent holders.
U.S. Patent #3610527 issued October 1971
As part of the licensing agreement with Hanson, SMI was subject to inspection by a Hanson representative. The representative turned out to be Jim VanderKelen, who had been the patent attorney for the Hanson patent. In the fall of 1974, Bill Gilbert who no longer wished to develop snowmaking technology further, sold 50 percent of Snow Machines International to Jim VanderKelen. A year later VanderKelen bought the other 50 percent and renamed the company Snow Machines Incorporated (SMI).
In 1974, a patent was filed for the Boyne Snowmaker - a ducted fan which isolated the nucleator to the outside of the duct and away from the bulk water nozzles, which were positioned above the centerline and on the downstream edge of the duct. SMI was the licensed manufacturers of the Boyne Snowmaker.
In 1978, Bill Riskey and Jim VanderKelen filed a patent later called the Lake Michigan Nucleator - by surrounding the existing nucleator (which required a small amount of air and water) with a water jacket the Lake Michigan Nucleator had none of the freezing problem earlier fan snowmakers sometimes had.
In 1992, Jim VanderKelen received a patent for his Silent Storm Snowmaker - a multiple speed fan and a shape of a new style propeller blade.
*Special thanks to Dennise at "Snow Machines Inc.", George Jennings at Woomera Snow Guns Pty Ltd Steve Kemp of Snowtech_Services and Alf Bucceri of Bucceri Snow
Patent Issued Title US05167367 12/01/1992 Snowmaking apparatus and methods US04214700 07/29/1980 Method and apparatus for making snow for ski slopes and the like US04202496 05/13/1980 Snow making system
The information on fan snowmakers was taken from an original article written by Jim VanderKelen, founder of Snow Machines Inc. Provided by Snow Machines Inc.