Lapham Peak's manmade snow gives insight to Beijing Olympic competition

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LAPHAM PEAK, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Winter Games in Beijing rely on nearly 100 percent manmade snow for the first time in Olympic history, conditions not unfamiliar to one state park in southeastern Wisconsin.

More than 100 snowmaking machines will use an estimated 49 million gallons of water for competition venues in China, drawing attention to the process of making the surface for snowboard and ski competitions.

Lapham Peak is the only state park in Wisconsin that makes manmade snow. That artificial surface keeps the sport of cross-country skiing running longer in the winter than if the park relied only on Mother Nature.

"In southeast Wisconsin, we can have weather and no-snow conditions where we may only ski 10 to 30, 40 days a year," Rich Marusinec of Friends of Lapham Peak Snowmaking told CBS 58. "But with manmade snow we have the reliability and we can generally be on our skis 90 days in a snow season."

Snowmaking requires miles of pipes, electricity, a water retention pond, hydrants, hoses and seven snow guns.

"[The snowgun combines] high pressure water, high pressure and a fan and basically taking water and creating small water particles and shooting it out into the air for it to crystalize," Marusinec said.

A snowcat machine then tills and softens the surface, making it ideal for cross-country skiing.

The quality of the trail has made it popular among new and veteran skiers.

"It just keeps getting more popular," Colton Kelly, the park manager for Kettle Moraine State Forest Lapham Peak Unit, said in an interview. "Last January we had our biggest attendance numbers ever." The Department of Natural Resources said 84,000 people visited the park in January of last year. This year attendance has gone down slightly but remains well above average.

"The manmade loop, especially this year, has really helped us be ski-reliable every day since Dec. 8 which is really important to the community, to our ski teams and our ski clubs," Marusinec said.

The manmade ski trail is set to continue to be available for use through mid-March, depending on weather.

Experienced skiers told CBS 58 the difference between natural and manmade snow can make a difference for athletes in competition.

"The manmade snow can be a little bit faster than the natural snow, so it can be pretty interesting," Peak Nordic Ski Club coach Alex Matheson said. "So, I think they'll be prepared and I think it'll be a fast race for them."

The ski community in southeastern Wisconsin is especially excited to support Team USA athletes competing at the Winter Games.

"Here at Lapham Peak, we're rooting for all those cross-country skiers in particular and hoping that they can bring some more medals back like they did four years ago," Marusinec said.

Friends of Lapham Peak hopes growing interest in the sport and the park in general helps fuel future endeavors. The organization is currently raising funds for a nearly $2 million lodge at the park where people can meet and socialize.

"We're really hoping to have this lodge in the future, where people will finish skiing, or before they ski gather, talk, have a glass of hot chocolate and really enjoy the communal aspect of this whole activity out here," Charlie Ritter of Friends of Lapham Peak said.

More info about the plans for the lodge can be found here.

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