Deb Abraham Spalding
On a sunny, 11-degree morning in early February, Warren Schafer was making snow at his house in Thurmont.
Schafer is a 15-year-old freshman at Catoctin High School. While society and social media lead us to believe that high school freshmen are sitting behind their cell phone apps and cell phone cameras or mesmerized behind their computers immersed in someone else’s imaginary world in video games, be assured, Schafer is, too!
The difference between the average freshman and Schafer—an avid skier and ham radio operator—is that he’s using some of that time to continually challenge himself to make a better snow-making gun than those currently used in the ski industry.
Thus, Thurmont’s “Snow Man” has been revealed!
Two years ago, Schafer’s snow-making prototype was his science fair project in middle school. He won first place in the Frederick County Science Fair in the Environmental Sciences category. He has taken that prototype and improved upon it again and again. The original design was built with parts from the local hardware store, and now he’s custom building them out of aluminum.
It is his goal to ultimately design and create a more efficient snow-making nozzle, one that uses less air, less electricity, and less water to produce more snow in less time than the current industry standards. Oh, and he’s recycling, too!
When asked if he’s achieved his goal this year, Schafer simply stated, “Yes, I have!” It’s a continual process.
Schafer explained, “We can make (a wet) snow when it’s 33 degrees if the humidity is really low. Snowmakers combine temperature and relative humidity together to create what’s called a wet bulb. As long as the wet bulb temperature is below 28 degrees, we can make snow.”
Schafer recycles water from the backyard pool. Rainwater catches on a tarp on the pool while a pump sits on the tarp and pumps the water into a big tank. A hose connects to the tank and feeds the water to the snowmaker that is powered by a small pressure washer.
At the time of our visit, Schafer had created a sled run with snow four to six inches deep at the bottom and two feet deep in the middle, and he had just started building the hill.
The two-foot base in the middle took about two hours to create with Schafer’s tiny snowmaker. A feat that is impressive even to the novice! Imagine, in the near future, being able to create a snow run in your own backyard using Schafer’s snow-making system that you can purchase at the local hardware store.
Schafer will continue to improve his design more and more to advance the system until he’s satisfied. At that point, he will make his system fully automated from controls at his computer. There may even be an app for that!
Warren Schafer is shown with his snow-making system. The swimming pool and collection tank are shown to the left, leading to the electric connection, power washer, hose, tripod, and snow-making gun.
Warren Schafer is shown adjusting his snow-making system in February.