10 June 2018 from Danielle in 'Ski areas''

Snow farming at Courchevel

Snow farming at © Courchevel

It was a fantastic ski season for the Alps, with ski resorts opening early and receiving plenty of snow throughout the season. But as we’ve seen over the last few decades, snow cover has been generally dwindling in the Alps. In hopes of avoiding the painful season openings we’ve witnessed in the past few years, some alpine ski resorts have resorted to snow farming. The process involves shielding batches of snow from the heat to stop them from melting over the summer, an optimistic stopgap measure designed to keep the ski resorts open while we fight against the damaging effects of climate change.

Snow farming: a way to defend against increasingly brown ski slopes

“Snow farming” refers to the practice of preventing snow from melting by making huge mounds of snow and protecting them with insulating materials. It’s a massive job that entails stockpiling snow with the aid of piste bashers and then either covering it in tarpaulin or covering it with a thick layer of sawdust. The technique has been used successfully in countries like Italy, Switzerland, Austria and now France. About 65-80% of the snow can be preserved, even in places with slightly warmer temperatures.

Brown ski slopes during the 2016/17 ski season

The 2016/17 ski season was plagued by brown ski hills

Courchevel tests out snow farming after enjoying great snowfall this year

Courchevel is trying out snow farming for the very first time this year. The Les Trois Vallées ski resort covered 20000m3 of snow – the size of 50 football pitches – with insulation panels and used a special tarp to protect the snow at the Emile Allais racing stadium in preparation for the Ladies’ Alpine Ski World Cup this December. Meanwhile, Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe, has invested €15,000 to cover 3500m2 of snow for use in their nordic trails, ski pistes and snow parks next winter.

Gathering snow for snow farming at Courchevel

Gathering snow for snow farming at © Courchevel

Snow farming has been used for a decade in the Alps

The posh resort of Davos in Switzerland has engaged in snow farming since 2008, preferring sawdust over tarpaulin. Meanwhile, Austria’s Olympiaregion Seefeld has been using snow farming since 2015. Their snow farming is free from chemicals and uses wood chips to preserve the snow. Germany’s Garmisch Partenkirchen ski area uses snow farming on the glacier so they can open in November, and Kitzbühel in Austria enjoys a consistently long season thanks to snow farming.

Snow farming at Kitzbühel

Kitzbühel often opens early thanks to snow farming © Bergbahnen Kitzbühel

Brown slopes are no cause for concern at Kitzbühel

Kitzbühel opens with brown slopes

© Bergbahnen Kitzbühel

Climate change forcing ski resort industry to get inventive to guarantee snow

While snow farming appears to be successful in preserving a good amount of snow in preparation for ski season opening, it’s still a little depressing to imagine relying on this technique in future. As snow base levels steadily decrease and ski season openings become more and more pathetic, the skiing industry is under increasing pressure to find ways to be environmentally sustainable. We can all make a difference by adopting some basic eco-friendly habits.

Born and raised in the ski paradise of Vancouver, Canada, I learned to ski before I can remember, balancing precariously on my parents’ skis as they sailed down the hill. I started snowboarding in my teens and am now delighted to be exploring everything Europe’s ski scene has to offer!