The Snowmaker

In a wide-ranging investigation into the history of snow creation, Jennifer Kabat describes the dangers of the job:

Imagine being out in the cold; it’s six degrees. The wind chill is minus twenty; you’re on a 40-degree pitch; the only light is from your headlamp. You have a flashlight, but you need both hands on the vice grip to fight 250 pounds of pressure to close a valve. You’re battling the slope and the cold, not to mention the exhaustion of the wee hours. Accidents happen and injuries are common. A widow-maker falls on you – not the sort of hanging limb you’d normally get in the woods dangling from a tree that might blow down in the wind. This will be just overhead, just above the snow gun you’re adjusting, and encrusted in ice. Snow is often wettest closest to the gun, and the ice and snow caked to the branch weigh it down until it snaps. You won’t hear it break; not with the roar of the gun, and even if you did, you’d probably not have time to jump out of the way.

Why the job is so necessary:

There are 60 ski areas in New York, more than any other state in the country. They’re mostly located in poor rural communities where skiing is an economic engine worth over $ 1 billion during those few months of winter.