Massanutten looks to open skiing earlier than usual

The ski resort has already opened snow tubing up.
The ski resort has already opened snow tubing up.(WHSV)
Published: Dec. 3, 2022 at 3:43 PM EST
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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - It’s now December and that means ski season is right around the corner. Massanutten Resort is on the cusp of opening-up skiing while snow tubing is already open.

Kenny Hess, the director of sports and risk management, said the weather has been favorable to make more snow very early.

So what is favorable weather for making snow?

Temperature and humidity play a role in making snow. The wet-bulb temperatures need to be below 28 degrees in order to make the snow. Wet-bulb temperatures are the coolest temperatures possible by evaporative cooling.

When water is evaporated into the air, it steals some of the energy used to heat the surface. This results in temperatures cooling. If the air is drier, it is easier to cool.

The wet-bulb temperature is always between the actual temperature and the dew point and is calculated a certain way. If you divide the difference in actual temperature versus the dew point into 3 and then subtract that from the actual temperature you get the wet-bulb temperature.

For example, let’s say the temperature is 30 degrees and the dew point is 21 degrees. This would mean the wet-bulb temperature is 27 degrees. This is used by ski resorts if the actual temperature is above 28 degrees. Of course, if the actual temperature is below 28 degrees then snow-making can begin regardless of humidity.

Hess said another challenge they face is a temperature inversion. When you have clear nights and light wind, cold air sinks more because it is denser. This forces the warmer air to rise. Think of it like your house. In most cases, the basement is the coldest level of your home and the upstairs is the warmest. It’s the same thing just on a much larger scale.

So this means on some cold nights, it is warmer at higher elevations like where the ski resort is located. A temperature forecast for the Valley isn’t completely dependable for higher elevations. Thursday night, this temperature inversion will set up but it will still likely be cold enough for snow to be made.

There is certain weather that can be really bad for snow on the ground and it’s not just warm temperatures.

“We want to see cold, consistent dry air to make some snow. Once we get a base down we can withstand a few warm days here and there. Fog and rain are the worst for us. They are snow eaters,” said Hess.

Hess said they were able to open up snow tubing on Thanksgiving weekend. According to Hess, they’ve only begun to open in November 6 or 7 times in their 50-year history of business.

Hess also said that they were looking to open up skiing this weekend but warmer temperatures and rain earlier in the week have postponed that until at least next weekend.