VIENNA, 17 December 2018 – The artificial snow cloud is a unique process for producing natural snow. The name says it all: The method is based on the simulation of the physical parameters of a cloud. This is possible with a small amount of water and electricity. Consequently, the innovation solves two problems in winter sports: snow quality and environmental effect.
The history of the artificial snow cloud dates back to 2009, when the patent was registered on behalf of the Vienna University of Technology and the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) Vienna. The researchers had achieved their goal: the weaknesses of existing technologies for artificial snowmaking had been overcome. Specifically, it was about the negative environmental effect and the unnatural consistency of artificial snow.
In existing technologies, artificial snow has the consistency of frozen drops of water and this can have a negative effect on the flora and fauna on the ski slopes. In addition, snow-making systems are associated with high water and energy consumption – and cause noise. The new technology produces real snow crystals – with low power and water consumption and no noise.
In the artificial snow cloud, up to fifteen cubic metres of powder snow are produced from one cubic metre of water. In a conventional snow cannon, the estimated ratio is about one to two. The only energy needed in the artificial snow cloud is the fan that distributes the water in the cloud – and the electricity can be drawn from a simple socket.
The artificial snow cloud is produced with a container in which the physical parameters of clouds can be simulated. The prerequisite for snow production is an outside temperature of ideally minus five degrees. The supply of moist air and crystallisation nuclei – frozen ice flakes – causes the ice flakes, which are constantly held in suspension, to grow into snow crystals. The snow crystals form snowflakes and have all the characteristics of natural snow. The finished snow crystals are blown out at the upper end of the container and distributed in the environment. The low density of the snow does not require powerful nozzles and propellers for even distribution around the artificial snow cloud.
“At that time, we assumed that we could also use snow for agriculture, for example to protect buds and young shoots from drying out during the winter months,” explains co-inventor Michael Bacher, who was researching the project at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences at the time. The interest in the research goal is sincere, but initially he wants to establish the technology in winter sports.
In 2014, he founded the spin-off Neuschnee GmbH in order to bring the project to market maturity. In 2016, the artificial snow cloud was named Patent of the Year by an Austrian jury for its originality, technical complexity and economic potential.
The envelope of the artificial cloud
The shell of the artificial cloud was developed by architect Walter Klasz as part of his dissertation at the Institute of Architecture at the University of Innsbruck. The architect adhered to the previously conceived shape of the spherical tetrahedron – a body with four triangular sides. The implementation took place in Active Bending. This is a process in lightweight wood construction in which structures actively use bending to form themselves. Forming and stabilization take place simultaneously in the construction process on site.
The tetrahedron has a height of eight and a half metres and a volume of about one hundred and fifty cubic metres. Resting on three local boulders, it seems to float. The cloud cover was presented in April 2018 at the Shape to Fabrication conference in London as an outstanding scientific achievement.
Market entry in winter 2019/20
The artificial cloud was launched in winter 2017/18 at 1600 metres above sea level in Lüsens in the Sellraintal valley. The small snow room was dedicated to the trend sport Snowskating and marketed under the title Neuschnee Arena. As Bacher explains, it was well received by the visitors. Quote: “We are faced with the technical challenge of serving customers who are not located in the high mountains. At lower altitudes, and thus higher temperatures, snow production becomes more and more difficult. That is why we are currently working on the implementation of a cooled cloud in which we can still produce very good snow even at zero degrees Celsius”.
Bacher is currently concentrating on customer acquisition. Market entry is scheduled for winter 2019/20. We are looking for location partners who want to become trendsetters in soft winter tourism.
Photo above: Neuschnee GmbH (c) Walter Klasz