Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! That’s what you may be singing when Old Man Winter rolls through. But as you already know, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate.

For snow to fall, the right weather conditions have to exist. That means there must be moisture in the air, especially high up in the sky where it can fall to the ground as precipitation. The temperature also has to be just cold enough to make the moisture freeze into snowflakes rather than falling as raindrops.

Sometimes, it might be below freezing at ground level where you are, yet you get rained upon. What’s up with that? Even when it’s cold at ground level, it might be much warmer up higher in the atmosphere, so moisture falls as rain rather than snow.

At other times, it might be above freezing at ground level, but you look out your window to discover beautiful snowflakes falling. That means it’s probably much colder up high in the atmosphere.

The people who run ski resorts know very well how fickle Mother Nature can be. They try to provide the very best skiing conditions for visitors for as long as possible, and that requires one thing: lots and lots of snow!

Unfortunately, the weather conditions aren’t always right for snow. That fact led some clever guys to invent a way to make snow with a machine way back in 1950. While many people call this manmade snow “artificial,” it’s actually made in much the same way that Mother Nature makes “real” snow.

Snow machines use water and compressed air to shoot tiny water droplets into the air. As these water droplets hit the cold air, they form ice crystals that fall to the ground as snow. So even if there’s not enough moisture in the air to snow, machines can make it snow on command!

However, it still has to be cold enough for the water droplets to crystallize into snowflakes. Machines also have to duplicate the natural process of snow formation as closely as possible. When real snow falls, the crystallization process is aided by dust and other small particles in the air. Modern snow machines spray these same types of particles into the air, along with the water droplets, to help snow crystals form.

Of course, you can still make something close to snow even if temperatures aren’t cold enough. In really warm areas, ice is sometimes chopped into tiny pieces and blown into the air to simulate snow.

Modern ski slopes often feature manmade snowmaking machines that cost millions of dollars and rely upon miles of underground water and compressed-air pipes. They can be used year-round to supplement natural snowfall, so that a more consistent snow level can be maintained.

Unfortunately, skiing professionals point out that manmade snow, while made in a similar way to natural snow, is still different from natural snow. They claim manmade snow tends to pack together more tightly and thus becomes icy more quickly. This can be good for ski racers, but those who prefer to ski in fresh powder say it’s just not the same!

Making manmade snow can also be very expensive — both in terms of money and resources needed. To cover one acre of ground one foot deep in snow, it can take up to 200,000 gallons of water and cost over $2,000!

34 Join the Discussion

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  1. Merry Christmas Wonderopolis! I got a sewing machine, and a desk to go with it! :) Cool wonder! I have a friend who likes to ski and he says they have lots of fake snow at ski resorts and other places. Thanks!
    =Bryleigh= :) ;) :P :D

    • WOW, thank you for sharing your awesome presents with us, Bryleigh! We bet you’re excited to start your next project on your WONDERful sewing machine! How neat! We are glad you enjoyed today’s Wonder– it’s cool to know that we can make snow using science, but natural snow is still the best!

      We hope you, your sisters and your parents are having a WONDERful day! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Me! We think it’s very considerate that you are thinking of all of us at Wonderopolis today! We’re going to spend some time with our families right now, so we will talk to you soon! Have a SUPER day! :)

  2. I got a PH Compaq CQ58 Windows 8 laptop and my brother is getting on every day for school as a challenge I am joining him in his challenge!

    • WOW, that’s a SUPER cool gift, Jake! Thanks for sharing your Wonderopolis challenge, too! It sounds like a WONDERful idea! :)

    • Hey there, Tommy! Thanks for sharing your comment today– we are glad this chilly Wonder made you smile! Thanks for your awesome Wonder suggestion, too! :)

  3. Artificial snow is a big waste of resources and is disrespectful to God, who controls the weather patterns. I believe that ski resorts who use fake snow are just trying to maximize their profits. I believe tomorrow’s Wonder will be about the classic game of tag.

    • We appreciate your comment, Tori! We respect your thoughts about natural and artificial snow– it’s important to look at both sides of the idea! We bet you’ll enjoy the next Wonder, too! :)

  4. Today’s wonder was really cool! I leared a lot about how snow machines make snow. I have always wondered how snow is made in machines at ski resorts and places like that, but I have never took the time to just google it. However, this was a much more interesting and more fun way to learn about it! :) I got an embroidery set for christmas, an art set, and some other cool stuff. Merry christmas, Wonderoplolis! :) ;)

    • Hey there, Berkleigh! We’re so glad that you enjoyed our snowy Wonder! It’s interesting to Wonder about places that make their own snow, in case the weather doesn’t get cold enough. It sounds like you are one lucky duck– you’re going to be working on some WONDERful art projects with your new gifts! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

    • Hey there, Tyler! Have you ever experienced manmade snow? It’s very cool (no pun intended) to Wonder about how snow is made when it’s not quite cold enough! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

    • Snow machines sure do come in handy if it’s not cold enough outside, you’re right Laila S! Thanks for using your WONDERful brain and sharing your comment today! :)

    • WOW, what a cool connection to our chilly Wonder, Jacob! We hope you have a super day, Wonder Friend! Thanks for stopping by today! :)

  5. Skiing is a fun activity but you need a lot of snow to do it. So you sometimes get mad if you go on big trip and there is no snow. :(

    • Skiing is a very fun sport, we agree, Wonder Friend Megan! However, without snow, it sure is tough to do! We learned all about manmade snow, but the fake snow can freeze and ice very easily, making skiing more difficult compared to real snow. We hope when you go skiing, there is LOTS of real snow! Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

  6. I love snow!!! But we don’t get very much where we live. I wondered if we could ever get more snow in places, without using fake snow. I found out the weather conditions have to be right for snow.
    Thanks, Wonderopolis!

    • YIPPEE! We love snow, too, Gretchen, and we hope you can visit a place that has snow this winter! We bet it’s great to enjoy the mild winter weather where you live! We Wonder if you have ever been snow skiing before? :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Can it snow when it’s not cold?
  • How do machines make snow?
  • Is manmade snow as good as natural snow?

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Try It Out

Ready to make your own manmade snow at home? Grab a friend or family member and give these fun science experiments a try. Be sure to read through the instructions first, as you may need to run to the store to get a few supplies before you begin:

Still Wondering

Check out Science NetLinks’ lesson on Freezing and Melting to explore what happens to the amount of different substances as they change from a solid to a liquid or a liquid to solid.

 

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