From Zero to Snowy in Half the Time

A popular ski hill doubled its snowmaking capacity with sustainable water infrastructure upgrades. The move gives winter sports enthusiasts more time on their favorite local slope and gives the region's economy an extra boost.

Jeff Ledin
Jeff Ledin, PE, is a project manager with decades of experience, especially in the area of public water systems engineering. Jeff brings a strong technical background including many years in highway/heavy construction supervision experience. He has worked on all phases of municipal engineering projects throughout Minnesota. Contact Jeff

Officials at Spirit Mountain Winter Recreation Area near Duluth, Minnesota, recently doubled their snowmaking capacity.

How?

With a one-mile pipeline that draws water from nearby St. Louis River at a rate of 4,000 gallons a minute. That’s enough water to completely fill an average-sized swimming pool every three minutes.

The improvements allow Spirit Mountain to cover an entire ski hill with snow in half the time it used to take — only 400 hours. And they will save an estimated $200,000 per year doing it.

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Old system, new system

Spirit Mountain, which opened its hills in 1974, traditionally supplied their snowmaking machines with treated water from the City of Duluth, purchasing 65-70 million gallons of potable water per year.

“But over the years, what they found was that the water was both too clean and not plentiful enough,” explains SEH project manager Jeff Ledin, PE.

With the new system, the City of Duluth will be able to dedicate their resources to their residents and businesses. And Spirit Mountain will be able to make snow when they need it most.

SEH project manager Jeff Ledin, PE, explains the new water infrastructure at Spirit Mountain.

Reversible for Mother Nature

The new water infrastructure is reversible. It changes direction depending on the season.

When snow is needed on the hill, the infrastructure will convey water from the St. Louis River to snowmaking machines on Spirit Mountain. Then, when the snow melts in springtime, the infrastructure will reverse directions and help return the snowmelt to the river.

New collection systems help separate the sediment from snowmelt, protecting fish and wildlife in the nearby estuary that has filled with sediment over the years.

The water infrastructure upgrades deliver water for snow in late fall and throughout the winter, then collect stormwater runoff in spring.

“A huge, huge benefit”

The new system will help Spirit Mountain open earlier. While that’s good news for snow sports enthusiasts and Spirit Mountain, it’s great news for the region.

Currently, Spirit Mountain brings an estimated annual economic impact of $37 million. But more snow means more skiers. More skiers mean even more economic activity to the area.

“It gives us an opportunity to have more open for more people, and bring people into the community earlier in the winter,” says Jody Ream, Spirit Mountain General Manager. “It’s a huge, huge benefit.”

In the end, it’s a win-win-win project. For snow sports fans, Spirit Mountain, and the Duluth region.

About the Expert

Jeff Ledin

Jeff Ledin, PE, is a project manager with decades of experience, especially in the area of public water systems engineering. Jeff brings a strong technical background including many years in highway/heavy construction supervision experience. He has worked on all phases of municipal engineering projects throughout Minnesota. Contact Jeff

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