Taneytown company helps make snow in Sochi

Chris Heacock, general manager of Flowserve in Taneytown, explains how the company builds the water pumps used to make snow for the Winter Olympics Monday.
Chris Heacock, general manager of Flowserve in Taneytown, explains how the company builds the water pumps used to make snow for the Winter Olympics Monday. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

TANEYTOWN - That crunchy snow U.S. snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg did flips and tricks on while earning a gold medal Saturday at the Sochi Olympics wouldn't be possible without one Taneytown company.

The snow in Sochi's Olympics has been a multi-pronged effort of several companies that do everything from stockpile the snow under insulated blankets, blow snow at the top of the slopes, which can be as warm as 60 degrees, and transform the water into snow.

Flowserve, based in Taneytown, developed the snow pumps that are used to pump the water that eventually transforms into the snow being showered over the slopes for the Olympics.

Chris Heacock, the general manager at Flowserve, said the company works with Torrent Engineering and Equipment in Indiana for its snow pump division. Flowserve creates the snow pumps that are sent to Torrent, which builds the pumping stations where the snow pumps are housed.

Flowserve shipped 21 vertical pumps to Torrent in 2010, years before the Sochi Olympics, in order to make sure snowmaking would go off without a hitch, he said.

"It's a small portion, but it's an exciting portion," Heacock said.

The biggest sectors of Flowserve's company include supplies for oil and gas, wastewater treatment and chemical processing.

The work Flowserve does with the oil and gas industry, including the Keystone XL Pipeline, amounts to $40 million per year, Heacock said. The work it does creating snow pumps is about $500,000 per year in Taneytown.

There are about 500 of Flowserve's vertical snow pumps in ski resorts across the country, including places like Ski Liberty and Elk Mountain, both located in Pennsylvania.

In the last eight years, Flowserve has doubled its size, Heacock said. It's mostly due to differentiation and expanding to different fields, he said.

It's also the team, he said.

Emad Kronfli, the team manager for the Sochi project, has been with the company for 25 years, he said.

In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, the team waited to see if the pumps were still functioning.

The design of the pump is meant to push out 800 gallons of water per minute, Kronfli said. There are two lakes on site at Sochi to keep the water flowing.

From concept to design, each project at Flowserve takes about a year to up to two or three years to create, he said.

"There's nothing off the shelf. We don't have shelves with snow pumps," Kronfli said.

The snow pump is put together kind of like a shish kabob, Heacock explained.

The key is to get the right number of stages, Kronfli said. Each stage builds more pressure. For each of the 21 snow pumps in Sochi, there are 12 stages of impellers, which look like an inverse of a propeller.

The high pressure built by the stages is needed in order to force water through the snow gun to create snow. Kronfli said it's similar to a garden hose - a lot of pressure builds to push the water out of a small orifice.

The snow pumps build the pressure that is eventually transferred to a snow gun, which turns the water into snow, he said.

So far, everything's gone without a hitch, Kronfli said.

"I've been in contact with Torrent and they're running fine," Kronfli said.

"Knock on wood," Heacock said. "Two more weeks."