Revealed: More than 60 percent of the world’s 2,131 lift-served ski and snowboard areas use artificial snow machines amid rising temperatures due to climate change

  • Climate change has forced ski resorts to rely on artificial snow machines
  • Some resorts have seen their snow levels drop by as much as 40 percent
  • Over 60 percent of the world’s ski resorts rely on artificial snow machines

More than 60 percent of the world’s 2,131 lift-served ski and snowboard areas rely on artificial snow machines to help keep their slopes open for business.  

One resort in Switzerland, Zermatt Bergbahnen AG, has been running a 30 ton artificial snow maker 24 hours a day for 20 consecutive days to keep its slopes covered.

The machines produce 1,900 tons of snow each day, which workers haul up and down the resort’s slopes to fill in any bald patches. 

More than 60 percent of the world's ski resorts rely on artificial snow to stay operational throughout the winter ski season

More than 60 percent of the world’s ski resorts rely on artificial snow to stay operational throughout the winter ski season

These extreme and energy intensive measures have been driven by climate change, which has forced a growing number of resorts like  Zermatt Bergbahnen AG to rely on artificial snow machines to stay open. 

Another resort in the Swiss Alps has reported their average annual snow depth has been 40 percent lower since 1988 than it has been between 1909 and 1988, according to a recent report in Wired.

‘Ten to 20 years ago you could always plan [on] the natural snowfall,’ Mathias Imoberdorf, a spokesperson from the Zermatt Bergbahnen AG, told Wired.

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‘In the middle of November, start of December there was a big snowfall every year. Now it’s unpredictable.’

One resort in the Swiss Alps reported a 40 percent decline in snow depth since 1988

One resort in the Swiss Alps reported a 40 percent decline in snow depth since 1988

The resort has 1,200 snow guns and snow guns covering more than 800 miles of slopes on its property.

The resort has spent more than $131million on snow machines and related expenses since 2002, equivalent to around 25 percent of the overall operating budget.

Starting in 2011, Arizona Snowbowl (pictured above), a resort outside Flagstaff, Arizona began using treated sewage water for its artificial snow machines

Starting in 2011, Arizona Snowbowl (pictured above), a resort outside Flagstaff, Arizona began using treated sewage water for its artificial snow machines

Snow machines aren’t just expensive, they’re also resource intensive. 

HOW IS ARTIFICIAL SNOW MADE?

Artificial snow machines work by first mixing water together with a nucleating chemical, which raised the temperature at which water molecules will crystallize.

The water is then shot through a high pressure nozzle with the help of compressed air.

The nozzle breaks the water up into a fine mist and the individual molecules quickly turn into ice crystals.

Traditionally, ski resorts have waited to run their snow machines until air temperature drops below freezing, typically at night. 

It takes roughly 900,000 liters of water to produce a foot of snow on one acre of land, and for many locations simply getting access to that much water can be a logistical challenge.

The Seven Springs resort near Pittsburgh has had to build almost 5,000 feet of new piping to bring water from a nearby lake to its snow machines.

In 2011, Arizona Snowbowl, a ski resort outside Flagstaff, Arizona, decided to start using treated sewage water to keep its snow making machines from running dry.  

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An organization called Schneetzentrum Tirol is researching a new technology for artificial snow generation that would require less energy than current methods, using plasma to help water freeze more efficiently.

‘Our society has to work on climate change in every part of our lives—so also winter tourism,’ Scheezentrum Tirol’s Michael Rothleitner told Wired.

 



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