Snow Machines Inc. (SMI), a US company specializing in snowmaking equipment, systems and design for resorts world-wide is headquartered in Midland, Michigan. In 1974, the company was founded by Jim and Betty VanderKelen, with one employee while working out of their home and a small room in the back of a local carpet company. But even then, Jim already sensed that the future of snowmaking would depend on energy efficiency and the ability to adapt to a variety of climates and weather conditions.
Their first product - an unusual but energy efficient snowmaking machine - was called the SnowStream 320 and it remains the only truly airless snowmaker ever successfully sold and used by hundreds of resorts all around the world. The SnowStream was soon followed by the Boyne and Highland Snowmakers; considered to be the forerunners of the modern simple-nozzle fan snowmakers.
The future will continue to evolve around energy efficiency and easier to use and maintain equipment.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Joe VanderKelen took the helm in 1992. Joe grew up working in the snowmaking business. As a teenager he was sweeping floors, loading trailers and playing “gopher” for the various departments. He later studied engineering at Michigan State University, enabling him to help with engineering and project management. Joe learned much from both his father and Jim Dilworth, co-inventor of the Boyne and Highland Snowmakers, and has adopted their common sense engineering and keep-it-simple method of doing business.
The 1990’s brought a fresh burst of innovation. Joe and the team at SMI produced the first reduced noise fan snowmaker in 1991, followed by their “bullet-proof” PoleCat Snowmaker in 1994, and their Wizzard Snowmaker for marginal climates in 1995. In this same decade, both the PoleCat and Wizzard products were expanded into several models called Kid, Standard and Super, to fit the variety of needs found within a single resort, like narrow trails or wide open areas subject to wind.
In 2001, advances in technology brought even more dramatic changes. It was then that SMI introduced their software and controls platform, named SmartSnow™ because of its ability to enable resorts to make snow in a much more intelligent manner. SMI has come a long way from SmartSnow’s modest beginning with some basic controls and monitoring, exploding over the years with automation features like remote connectivity, a smartphone app, flexible and customizable software, an impressive user friendly interface, advanced communication options like grouping, pump operations, weather measurement, and integrated auxiliary equipment. If Jim’s legacy was energy-efficient snowmaking, Joe’s will be leveraging technology to see huge gains in production and savings for resort owners.
In 2011, the Puma “King of the Mountain” snowgun was designed and launched, taking automation to the max. SMI continued to push snowmaking technology and customization to the limits by engineering a variety of air/water guns such as the Viking and the Axis Snowtowers. SMI also pushed the design of a large variety of mounts that offer solutions for lifting, rotating, oscillating – basically positioning and moving the snowmakers in any direction or location needed.
After forty successful years, the company remains focused on energy efficiency and smarter snowmaking strategies with products developed to allow snowmaking in warmer and wetter conditions, for less energy and with less labor. No doubt, the future will continue to evolve around energy efficiency and easier to use and maintain equipment. With the economic forecast and climate change trends, SMI’s automation will continue to advance and take advantage of the latest technological developments.
The recent industry consolidation in snowmaking has seen the strong get stronger and the weak go away. SMI is financially strong and well positioned with great products and people and quite confident they will continue to be a leading snowmaking company across the world market for the next 40 years. All along, SMI has relied heavily on customer ideas and feedback, loyalty and commitment and they are deeply grateful for the confidence and business of so many mountain resorts.