Torino Olympics saved by Israeli snow-making technology

Barmad’s engineers installed their valves into the snow cannons and they stayed to supervise their non-stop operation. (Photo: AP)What if they gave a winter Olympics and there was no snow?That was the dilemma facing organizers of this winter’s Olympic games …

Barmad’s engineers installed their valves into the snow cannons and they stayed to supervise their non-stop operation. (Photo: AP)What if they gave a winter Olympics and there was no snow?

That was the dilemma facing organizers of this winter’s Olympic games taking place in Torino, Italy. And the solution they found, believe it or not, came from the hot and dry Middle East.

Israeli company Bermad has been charged with a key element of supplying man-made snow to the Games, which open on February 10.

Until last week, the organizers of the Games had a crisis on their hands: the quantity and the quality of snow was not up to the level necessary for world-class competition.

That’s where Bermad comes into play. Makers of water valves for over 40 years from their home base on Kibbutz Evron near Nahariya, the company’s expertise lies in valve automation.

“Snow making machines consist of a water cannon and a big blower fan,” explained Ofir Marks, the company’s export marketing manager. “The huge fan throws the water into the air making very small water bubbles. When the temperature falls to minus 2 degrees centigrade, the water turns to snow and falls to the ground.”

The solution was to enhance the natural base with artificial snow, created from strong streams of water that are scattered under extremely high pressure onto the ski runs. The effectiveness of the water cannons used to create this snow stems from the very precise amount of pressure that is created by the valves inside them.

“The cannon requires the water to be at a certain pressure and flow,” Marks told ISRAEL21c. “We produce the automation that opens and closes the valves according to the instructions of the site operators – or it can be set on automatic according to the temperature. For instance, whenever the temperature falls below, a certain point, the valve will open and the cannon starts shooting the water.

The company’s engineers were in Italy to install the valves into the snow cannons and they stayed to supervise the non-stop operation of the cannons – which succeeded in creating enough snow to open the Olympics on time. However, nature intervened subsequently, and snow finally fell last week on the ski resort of Sestriere, which will host the Alpine skiing races at the Games.

Why would the Italians choose Israeli expertise to make, of all things, snow?

“Our subsidiary in Milan has done a lot of work with ski resorts in Italy, and it was natural that we would be chosen for the Olympics,” Marks said, adding that even though natural snow had fallen, by the end of the Games, it may still be necessary to start up the cannons again.

The main Bermad factory on the kibbutz employs 350 people, and the company has seven subsidiaries around the world, including one in California, totaling another 160 employees, according to Marks.

“Our bread and butter is irrigation and water works system, The snow making is just an interesting sideline,” he said.

The irony – this cutting-edge technology is not being put to use in Israel’s own ski site – Mt. Hermon.

“We tried, but the climate conditions in the Hermon don’t allow the creation of snow in the quantity and quality that we are making here,” Rafi Ovadia, the director-general of Bermad Italy told Yediot Aharonot. “When you create large amounts of artificial snow in Israel – it just melts.”

(Based on a report in Yediot Aharonot)