The IDE snowmaking system was developed almost by accident by an Israeli company best known for its water desalination products. It created a cooling system for a South African gold mine in the 1990s, which to their surprise and the delight of surfacing miners, produced snow as a by-product under the scorching African sun.
With no ski industry experience it took a while to modify the system for ski resorts, and indeed to persuade ski resorts to take it seriously. But with melting glaciers a major concern both Pitztal and Zermatt have forked out over a million Euros each for the IDE system which uses no chemicals and consumes about the same power as an average home.
The large machine was imported from Tel Aviv and Zermatt's lift company had some difficulty bringing it up the narrow valley, at one point needing to remove the roof of a building in order to get it through, then rebuild the roof after it had passed.
IDE's All Weather Snowmaker is based on a 15-year proven, proprietary Vacuum Ice Maker (VIM) technology which utilizes vacuum conditions to generate snow. This economical and ecological technology uses water as refrigerant. Inside the VIM, a high vacuum induces the phenomenon of the triple point of water, where vapor, liquid and ice coexist. Some of the water evaporates, while the remaining water freezes. Ice-water slurry is formed and pumped out of the VIM into a snow concentrator which separates the water from the snow crystals, extracting high quality snow.
In Zermatt's case the snow is being used to make a path between the bottom of its high altitude glacier and the cable car station from where skiers and boarders can get back up the slopes to access the year round ski area. In years gone by the glacier did reach this lift station anyway, but over the past two decades it has melted away and in summer and autumn there may be no snow cover at all.
Speaking for the other IE installation at Pitztal, Willi Krueger, Marketing Manager of the Pitztal Glacier lift company said, "Reliable snow at all ambient temperatures is becoming more and more of an issue for our area. Consequently the purchase of this snowmaker system has generated a lot of interest in the region," said. The resort decided on the IDE system following the warm autumn months of 2006 and the subsequent lack of snow he added.