CNET News Video: Making snow with a mobile phone
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CNET News Video: Making snow with a mobile phone

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On the slopes of Sochi, Olympic organizers have more than 400 snow-making machines on stand by. Technology is making it easier and more efficient to make snow, even from a mobile phone. CNET's Sumi Das visits Lake Tahoe to find out what it takes to create a winter wonderland when nature isn't cooperating.

-As a skier or boarder, you wouldn't guess that buried beneath these slopes is a complex web of pipes. -Right where we're standing there's pipes and-- -All over-- all over the mountain? -All over the mountain. -Thank you. Have a good day. -Like most major ski resorts, Northstar California in Lake Tahoe can keep trails open even during a drought. With sophisticated snow-making equipment, the life of a machine made snowflake begins where all those pipes originate, at the base of the mountain. -And there's these air compressors and they can press air and that air is transferred up the mountain in these pipelines and there's also water pumps. -Hoses transporting the water and compressed air are hooked up to different types of snow guns. Here's a stick gun and this is a fan gun. -Basically uses the big fan on the back and then the front of the gun at the nozzles there's a bunch of water nozzles in the front. -Okay. -So, the fan just forces the air out, water interjects into the air stream and it just falls to the ground as snow. -It's equipment like this that's transformed Sochi, a subtropical city. -Same stuff in the Olympics that they used we're using here at Northstar. -And they're using other tricks in Russia. -They like it a little firmer because it's faster and they're into speed. So, they do two things, they water the course at night and let that freeze on top of national snow or man-made snow, and they make, you know, if it warms up during the day, they may add a little salt to it, makes it set up during the day, so it's a little bit firmer. -Chilly temperatures definitely help. The colder it is, the more efficient snow guns become. Northstar typically fires up 125 guns nightly. But they're only turned on when the mercury drops below a certain temperature. -How much snow can this stick gun generate? -This is about 14 to 75 gallons per minute, and it runs 24 hours a day when it's cold. And so, it'll cover this area right here. In 3 or 4 days, you could ski this area when you put a snowcat on and groom it out. -Over the past 10 years, snow-making has become highly automated to the point that the snow guns on the mountain can be controlled with an iPhone app. -We start compressors and we start water pumps and actually you can adjust these guns with your iPhone which is really pretty cool. -An antenna enables communication with the guns which have built-in intelligence too. It's got a computer on board, it monitors the outside temperature, relative humidity, calculates wet bulb, turns the water up, makes more snow when it gets cold, turns itself down when it warms up, and if it really gets warm, turns itself off. -As you might imagine, this is an expensive way to keep lifts running. -It does cost money to run snow-making 'cause you have power bill, you have all these machinery and labor, but it's like an insurance policy if mother nature doesn't kick. -This winter, it's not just California ski resorts that are depending on snow-making technology, it's also athletes going for the gold in Sochi. In Lake Tahoe, I'm Sumi Das, CNET for CBS News.
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