Winter Sports

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Is Snow Farming the Future of the Ski Industry?

31 Oct, 2018

By: Michael Popke
Owners of Winter Sports Events Count on Venues to Deliver Snow. Here's How They're Doing It

A shortage of snow, combined with warm temperatures and rain, forced the cancellation of the 2017 American Birkebeiner, the world’s largest cross-country ski race in northern Wisconsin earlier this year. And other winter sports events, from the famous Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska to the Hahnenkamm World Cup ski races in Austria, have relied on snow delivered from other destinations in recent years.

No wonder, then, that snow farming is becoming big business, especially in Europe. As Bloomberg.com reports: “European ski resorts are preserving last year’s snow by storing it under tarps. It’s a low-tech way to start the next season with an inherited base and colder ground temperatures — that’s key if they want skiers on the mountain before Christmas.”

Snow is groomed and raked into place, and then covered with reflective insulation panels and waterproof tarps, in the hopes that three-quarters of it will have survived the hot summer, according to Bloomberg.com.

The Swiss ski resort of Davos buries snow under sawdust, where the material’s cooling and protective properties have helped save the snow for redistribution on the mountain months later. A resort in Austria spends $165,000 on snow farming using foil covers and has extended its ski season to stretch from mid-October into May. Staff members use drones to monitor the snow.

Closer to home, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Craftsbury Common, Vt., buried snow it produced in January and February under a pile of insulating wood chips. In cooperation with geologists at the University of Vermont, crews at the center set up a series of lasers and reflectors to measure the volume of snow in the pile and gauge how quickly it melts, according to New England Cable News.

Meanwhile, crews at the White Grass cross country ski resort near Elkins, W. Va., use a different type of “snow farming” to groom the trails. Their approach uses an elaborate system involving thousands of feet of lightweight, movable fences strategically positioned to capture giant manmade drifts that “save up snow,” as the West Virginia Tourism Office describes it.

After removing the fences, snow groomers distribute the snow across 35 miles of trails, and then tow rollers behind snowmobiles to compact it before dragging trackers over the groomed trails to leave ski-sized tracks.

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