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MORE RESORTS OPEN IN THE ALPS - Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Thursday October 11, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

Tignes is the latest and we have reports from its slopes. Other glacier areas & some non-glacier ones have also opened. Many with the help of snow farming.


The high altitude French resort of Tignes opened its glacier area on Wednesday.

The snow is a bit scarce after the long hot summer but skiing and snowboarding is now officially underway and it continues right through to May 5th 2019.

"Thanks to the great work from all the staff here and weather conditions, we can now announce that the glacier area is open," said the resort on Facebook.

"Tignes is ready to welcome its first skiers in the best condition possible. Let the season begin."

And here's what it looks like:

PlanetSKI reader Marcia Nash has been up on the glacier on Wednesday and Thursday and says there's no one around.

Tignes glacier lift  No queues for the cable car - photo Marcia Nash

Empty Tignes glacier cable carNo one around - photo Marcia Nash

Tignes cable carNo one around - photo Marcia Nash

"Only the cable cars are running; no draglifts at all," she told us.

"They need more snow. So, very few pistes are open. What is open is in surprisingly good condition and it is REALLY quiet this week, especially in the afternoons - about a dozen of us!"

Tignes glacierNo one on the Tignes glacier - photo Marcia Nash

Tignes glacierNo one on the slopes, 18th October - photo Marcia Nash

"That will all change at the weekend as the next 2 weeks are half term, so likely to be very busy."

Another sign that the season is starting is the news that the first World Cup ski race of the winter is just over a week away.

The alpine racing season will open with the  women's and men's giant slalom races in Soelden in the Tirol in Austria on the weekend of 27th and 28th October.

The inspection has been carried out and the International Ski Federation has declared the course fit for racing.

Over this weekend and into next week the temperature is set to fall across Europe too, so conditions may allow for some snow making at altitude.

It will also help preserve what has already fallen.

However, it's not all good news.

Sadly, the French glacier resort of Les2Alpes has postponed its autumn opening as we have reported on PlanetSKI:

And let's not forget there has been some snow in the Pyrenees too.

Snow in the PyreneesPic du Midi, Pyrenees

Piau, Engaly in the French PyreneesPiau, Engaly in the French Pyrenees

Snow in the PyreneesGrand Tourmalet

And Pal Arinsal in Andorra is winter ready:

It's also looking wintry in the Spanish Pyrenees in Baqueira Beret.

Soon skiing will be upon us here...

Baqueira BeretBaqueira Beret

Meanwhile, Kitzbuehel in the Tirol in Austria was the first non-glacier resort in the Alps to open earlier this month.

It opened on Saturday 13th October and the lucky few were out enjoying the slopes in the sunshine.

KitzbuhelKitzbuhel, Tirol, Austria, 13th October

Many of those out were skiers from local ski clubs.

Kitzbuhel, Tirol, AustriaKitzbuhel, Tirol, Austria, 13th October

Hintertux, Tirol, AustriaHintertux, Tirol, Austria

But the early opening is only possible because of snow-farming and the resort's extensive arsenal of snow cannons.

It costs the Austrian resort about $165,000 a season.

"Snow farming is our life insurance," says the head of the resort's snowmaking operations, Josef Burger.

The resort sends up drones in the summer to monitor the covered snow.

"It's great to see the first non-glacier resort in the Alps opening but it should also be pointed out that very few people ski at this time of year and those that do might well head to the glaciers ski resorts in the area," observes the PlanetSKI editor, James Cove.

"Some believe it is all a bit of a PR exercise and others question the cost of it all. However is is still wonderful to see the slopes opening with winter on the way, even though little is fresh snow from the sky," he added.

Note the background!Note the background!















Already open in the Tirol are Hintertux, Soelden and Pitztal.

One of PlanetSKI's regular readers, Scott Hammond, is currently in Hintertux and has posted the picture below.

He reports conditions as "hard packed".

Hintertux, Tirol, AustriaHintertux, Tirol, Austria

Kitzbuhel has been snow farming for a number of years, along with a number of resorts in Scandinavia.

While Kitzbuhel is the first in the Alps, the first non-glacier in Europe to open was Ruka in Finland.

It opened on 5th October - the earliest ever for Finland - and snow-farming is why.

Ruka, FinlandRuka, Finland















Ruka had stored 75,000 cubic meters of the snow from last winter and once the temperatures dropped it spread the snow over a small section of its ski area.

The snow was put into 5 large pits at the end of last winter and a protective covering was placed over it.

It has now been taken out and spread over some of the slopes by the resort's piste bashers.

Ruka, FinlandMoving the farmed snow in Ruka, Finland















Ruka, FinlandPreparing the slopes in Ruka, Finland















Here at PlanetSKI we predict snow-farming is set to grow in order to secure early season openings.

Snow-farming began a decade ago but now the big name resort of Courchevel in Les3Vallees has started to get in on the action.

Snow farming in CourchevelSnow farming in Courchevel














Courchevel began snow farming for the first time last spring.

The impetus is a major race scheduled for December.

Snow farming in CourchevelSnow farming in Courchevel














Snow farming in CourchevelSnow farming in Courchevel















"20,000 cubic metres of snow have been stored under insulation panels and a special tarp on the Emile Allais racing stadium for the next Ladies Alpine Ski World Cup in December," a statement from the resort says.

"It should remain 15,000 cubic metres at the end of November "

Snow farming in CourchevelSnow farming in Courchevel - the tarpaulin goes on















Courchevel is unusual in using stockpiled snow for a downhill run.

Most of the resorts that have been snow farming for several years have been using the snow to create cross-country tracks or cover small areas at low altitude.

There are different techniques.

While Courchevel is using insulation panels and a large tarpaulin, other areas use recycled sawdust or wood chips.

Davos in Switzerland is thought to have been the trailblazer for alpine snowfarming.

The resort has been covering a mound of snow with sawdust every spring since 2008.

Snow farming in DavosSnow farming in Davos














The first field trials were carried out there to test the feasibility of snow farming at lower altitudes and identify the most effective methods.

They clearly showed that a thick layer of sawdust offered better protection against melting than geotextiles.

"This snow is used in the autumn to prepare a cross-country ski trail before new snow can be produced," the resort says.

"Covering the snow means that we can retain around 70-80% of the volume, which enables the resort to start the season earlier, regardless of the temperatures in autumn.

"The 4 km long snow farming cross-country skiing trail is open and can be used by both athletes and amateurs."

Davos expanded its snow farming efforts in autumn 2015 and can now store three times the volume of snow it once did for its cross-country trail in the lower Flüela Valley.

Seefeld in the Austrian Tirol is one of the leading cross-country ski areas outside of Scandinavia and will host the 2019 Nordic Ski World Championships.

Seefeld 2019Hosts of the 2019 Nordic Ski World Championships
















The Olympiaregion Seefeld started snow farming in 2015 to improve training conditions and establish itself as a serious alternative to the Nordic countries.

It used 6,000 cubic metres of artificial snow, which it stored under a layer of wood chips to protect it from sun and rain.

Teams are able to train all day on a 1.5km long and 6 metre wide track from November.

Livigno in Italy used stored snow for the first time in August 2016 for an annual summer cross-country race - the Trofeo delle Contrade.

The snow is stored in the village during the winter, covered with a layer of sawdust and then a geothermal insulating sheet.

Snow farming in LivignoSnow farming in Livigno
















A survey by the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) suggests that interest in snow farming is on the rise.

  • 90% of the 100+ ski resort operators and local authorities surveyed in the German-speaking Alps and Scandinavia were familiar with snow farming
  • 49% viewed it positively, while 14% were critical
  • Roughly half who had not farmed snow were considering doing so
  • 15% said they planned to start preserving snow over the summer
The reasons given were:
  • to guarantee a minimum snow sport offering
  • to ensure a punctual start to the season
  • to compensate for the shorter snowmaking periods in autumn and early winter.

You can read more on the survey here.

Snow farming in Les SaisiesSnow farming in Les Saisies, France













And it's not just the Alps.

In the eastern US, they've just begun a snow farming trial to create more reliable early-season snow for cross-country skiers.

An environmental geologist at the University of Vermont, Paul Bierman, is leading the project at the Craftsbury Outdoor Centre, copying some of the successful European models.

Snow from last winter has saved and buried under wood chips.

Snow farming in VermontSnow farming in Vermont - photo Paul Bierman
















It's a small-scale trial and won't have enough stored snow for this autumn but it's hoped there will be sufficient by autumn 2019.

Snow farming is just one of the measures being taken to help deal with the impact of climate change.

Research published in early 2017 suggested that Europe's mountains could lose as much as 70 per cent of their snow cover by the end of the century.

In June 2017 we reported on a pioneering experiment in Switzerland to use artificial snow in an attempt to stop a glacier shrinking.

The experiment is apparently going well and was featured in an episode of BBC Radio 4's Costing The Earth.

And other projects are underway as resorts find ways to protect their lucrative snowsports industry.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number 1 for ski news

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