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      29 / 19

      Snow before the storm

      This year's early mild winter and lack of snow had left most communities in the U.P. wanting.

      Ski hills are no exception, but they do have a trick or two up their sleeve to counteract Mother Nature.

      Every year, Marquette County gets close to 12 feet of snow. That's key for ski hills because they're extremely high maintenance. Without an ample amount of snow, slopes can't function properly.

      Chad Lichtenberger is well versed on how to fill the void. His degree is in ski area management from Gogebic College. Couple that with the experience from grooming Marquette Mountain for the past three years, it's shaped him into somewhat of a natural at making snow.

      "We run about 500 gallons a minute to all these guns. Each one can put out quite a bit of snow. We usually try to move the guns around quite a bit so we don't make any big piles," explained Lichtenberg.

      The size of the snow piles can vary greatly depending on the humidity and the temperature. A few degrees makes all the difference. At 27 degrees, Chad can make 20 gallons of snow a minute, just five degrees cooler, and he can pump out five times as much. For every gallon he churns out, 231 cubic inches cover the runs. Twenty-thousand gallons of water are shot through giant fans giving the droplets enough hang time to freeze into snow.

      Not all snow is created equal. The humidity plays a huge role in deciding the quality of the flakes. The more humid it is, the wetter the snow, while dryer temperatures create fluffy flurries.

      Snow guns are equipped with nozzles allowing Chad to adapt to the conditions and create the desired effect.

      "Usually during the preseason when we're trying to get open, we want heavy snow so it will stick and get a good base to freeze up. And then we try to make a little bit lighter snow on top of it that's a bit dryer so we can get good, fast snow. Skiers like fast," Lichtenberg remarked.

      Preparing the hill, however, is anything but fast.

      The snow making process can be long and grueling, starting at 8 p.m. and going well into the morning. Snow makers produce thousands of gallons of snow which is somewhat indistinguishable from the real stuff.