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Rikert Nordic Center now has snowmaking

Middlebury College has completed the installation of snowmaking equipment on five kilometers of trails at the Rikert Nordic Center, a 50-kilometer cross-country skiing area in Ripton, Vt., owned and operated by the college.

The new, $850,000 snowmaking system will extend the cross-country skiing season and all-but-ensure that there will be snow when the college hosts the NCAA skiing championships in March.

While snowmaking is commonplace at many of New England’s alpine skiing areas, it is less of an everyday occurrence at Nordic centers.

“Rikert now has the most extensive snowmaking system of its type among all of the Nordic centers in North America,” said Mike Hussey, director of the Rikert Nordic Center. Other cross-country ski areas have the equipment and the know-how to make their own snow, but Rikert’s five kilometers of coverage – the equivalent of about 3.1 miles – is the most extensive coverage in the Northeast, Hussey said.

Rikert Nordic Center now has 20 “snowguns” manufactured by HKD Snowmakers of Natick, Mass., to make its snow. At full capacity Rikert’s snowmaking system uses up to 250 gallons of water per minute. For comparison purposes, Hussey estimated that a major alpine ski area such as Killington pumps about 10,000 gallons of water per minute. At 250 gallons per minute, the staff at Rikert can produce enough snow to cover five kilometers of trail in about 200 hours’ time.

The system designed by Sno.Matic Controls and Engineering of Lyme, N.H., pumps compressed air and pressurized water through above-ground lines to each of Rikert’s moveable snowguns. As long as the temperature is below 32 degrees F. and the humidity is low enough, compressed air mixed with water droplets at the head of a modern snowgun will produce ice crystals, or man-made snow. And once a portion of trail has been covered sufficiently, the apparatus is moved to another section of trail while the staff grooms the newly made snow.

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