SNOW CANNONS TO THE RESCUE
10th July 2016
More and more resorts in the northern and southern hemisphere are only able to open with the help of snow cannons. Is this the shape of things to come?
Coronet Peak in New Zealand opened in the second weekend of July with barely a single flake of natural snow.
Its 217 snow guns used 51.5m gallons of water to make 129,000m3 of snow and the resort said that without its arsenal of cannons the slopes would be bare.
It claimed there was 10-15cm of “nice chalky snow” on the lower slopes and 30-40cm on the upper mountain.
Pretty much all man-made.
8 of its 32 runs were open as thousands turned out at the start of the school holidays.
The area is in the middle of an unseasonal heatwave and New Zealand as a whole has had its third warmest June ever.
The resort of Mt Ruapehu has been able to open small parts of its upper ski areas after it spent 60 hours pumping out 14m litres of water.
Much of the area remains closed and the area that is open is busy.
The resort of Treble Cone remains closed though The Remarkables, Mt Hutt and Cardrona are open – just.
“In the last 10 years we’ve continued to invest quite substantial amounts of money in snowmaking. I guess we’re like farmers investing in irrigation. It sort of safeguards the future as far as we can see at the moment,” said the ski area Manger of Mt Hutt, James McKenzie.
What it highlights is the increasing dependance that ski resorts, in both the southern and northern hemisphere, now have on the snow cannon.
The Alps saw one of the worst starts to winter in recent memory last season with poor conditions over both Xmas and New Year.
We were in Verbier over the festive period and reported on conditions there and some rather exaggerated claims from elsewhere round the Alps.
Earlier PlanetSKI had been in the Dolomites where hardly a flake had fallen.
All the skiing and snowboarding was was on thin strips of artificial snow.
There are 4,700 snow cannons covering the 1,200 kilometres of runs that make up the Dolomiti Superski area.
It allowed 500kms of to be open despite no natural snowfall worth talking about.
It is thought the area was the first to buy a snow cannon – 35 years ago.
It now has one of the largest and most modern snowmaking systems in the world and last winter the area needed it as we reported at the time from the Dolomites.
Another area in the Alps that has a sophisticated system is Les3Vallees in France – its has 2,189 cannons and can cover 50% of its slopes with artificial snow.
More are planned and perhaps one day it may even be 100% of the slopes that have snow cannons.
Ischgl too in the Austrian Tirlol has a huge network of canons.
It needs them for the end of November as it has a fixed opening time with tens of thousand of people coming for its opening weekend concert. The slopes have to be open.
In 2011 it spent a reported 1m Euros to cover the slopes see here for our story from the time as its 1,000 snow cannons used 650,000 cubic meters of water.
Then just a couple of days later Mother Nature provided in the shape of a huge snowstorm.
Back to the present in New Zealand there are increasing worries for the future and some believe skiing could even become a thing of the past.
Scaremongering perhaps but no-one knowswhat things will be like in the future.
New climate projections from the Ministry for the Environment show the South Island’s ski season could be around 30 days shorter before the end of the century.
Snowlines will retreat to higher altitudes due to higher temperatures, with some areas experiencing “significant decreases in seasonal snow,” said the Ministry.
In Mt Hutt there are predictions that the freezing level could be hundreds of meters further up the mountain within 50 years.
“The overall prognosis is not good,” said climate scientist James Renwick.
“The higher altitude skifields will be okay for much longer, I would say. But projections from NIWA suggest that seasonal snow pack is likely to decrease at all altitudes, even up at the top, by the end of the century'” said New Zealand climate scientist, James Renwick, to local media.
The extent of the reduction seems to depend on the world’s response to greenhouse gas emissions and overall changes to the Earth’s climate.
And the good news?
Heavy snowfall is forecast in New Zealand – for the middle of this week.
There could be snow down to 900m on Wednesday and 400m on Thursday.
The Remarkables ski area manager, Ross Lawrence, has told local media In New Zealand that he hopes the forecast is right and would be “jumping for joy” when it is on the ground.
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