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Thursday October 11, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

It's Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Tirol & is thanks to some intensive snow-farming over the summer. So, what's it like & why bother? UPDATED


It's always good news when the first non-glacier resort in the Alps opens.

It's a sign that winter is creeping up on us.

Kitzbuhel opened on Saturday 13th October and the lucky few have been 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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