October 10, 2009
Snowmaking for Alpine glaciers; where there are enough skiers there is a way.
Posted by Mauri Pelto
Snowmaking on glacier’s, sounds like an oxymoron. However, several ski resorts in the Alps have begun doing just that to trying to offset the increased melting of glaciers that occupy a portion of their resorts. This is a more practical application than the insulating blanket that has been used at the Pitzal resort. Stubai Glacier for example has experienced a 33% loss in its area since 1969 shrinking from 1.72 to 1.15 square kilometers (Aberman and others, 2009).
On the Pitzal Glacier, Austria they have begun using the IDE All Weather Snowmaker, which can produce snow in above-zero temperatures without chemical additives. This system, which produces snow directly on the slope at any temperature and without chemical additives, was installed in the Pitztal for the first time in Europe and at the same time as in Zermatt (Switzerland). The artificial snow cover forms a buffer layer on top of the glacier and prevents glacial melting. This also covers the glacier ice with a skiable surface. The high temperatures in recent years on the Pitztal Glacier were often not right in early autumn for producing normal snowfall so Dr. Hans Rubatscher, Manager of the Pitztal Glacier Railway, is employing a new way. In the future, the Snowmaker will be used alongside the existing snowmaking equipment, in particular at the start of the season in autumn and in late spring. This brings numerous benefits to the Pitztal Glacier optimizing ski run conditions, earlier opening of the slope section by the base station of the Pitz-Panorama Railway. The potential is emphasized by the interest of several ski teams who have expressed great interest in this special facility at the Pitztal Glacier. The 15m high production tower for the snow has been set up in its own building at an altitude of 2,840m right by the base station of the Pitz Panorama Railway. Below is the output of the snow with the glacier in the backgroundThe snow produced here can be channeled directly onto the slopes below by the Gletschersee chair lift. The water for this innovative snow production system will be extracted using a vacuum system from the existing storage pools on the Pitztal Glacier. These pools are filled exclusively with melted glacier water, thus forming an ecological cycle on the glacier, returning its own meltwater as snow. After gaining experience, concrete attempts will be made to use the snow created by the Snowmaker to preserve the substance of the glacier in Austria’s highest glacier ski area. The glacier seen below has in most years been bare by late summer, not a skiable condition. The net volume loss of the glacier has also been notable.
In Zermatt’s case the snow is being used to make a path between the bottom of its high altitude glacier and the cable car station from where skiers and boarders can get back up the slopes to access the year round ski area. In years gone by the glacier did reach this lift station anyway, but over the past two decades it has melted away and in summer and autumn there may be no snow cover at all.
The IDE snowmaking system was developed by an Israeli company best known for its water desalination products. It created cooling systems for mines, which to their surprise produced snow as a by-product even under the scorching sun. The “Snowmaker system” can produce approximately 1900 cubic meters of snow in 24 hours whatever the outside temperature, humidity, and wind speed, and is highly energy-efficient. With traditional snowmaking systems, the temperature has to be at least minus 6 degrees Celsius and the humidity no more than 60 percent. With the IDE Snowmaker, these factors don’t come into the equation.
Currently 15% of the Tignes French ski area is covered by snow making canons and it is not just low lying areas.Tignes has equipped the bottom of the runs of the Glacier du Grande Motte with snow making to extend the summer ski season at 3000 meters and Val d’Isère is doing the same on the Glacier du Pisaillas to assure the summer skiing. The lift tower on Glacier Pissaillas is on the right of the image, the bare ice is not good ski conditions. Snow cannon shown at Tignes
Val d”Isere Above and Tignes below