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Christmas skiing not guaranteed by the end of the century

For many people, skiing holidays are as much a part of the end of the year as Christmas trees and fireworks. However, as global warming intensifies, white slopes are becoming increasingly rare. Now, a team of scientists from the University of Basel has calculated how well the Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis – one of Switzerland’s largest ski resorts – will remain snow reliable with technical snowmaking by the end of the century, and how much water this snow will require to be produced.

Current climate models predict that although there will be more precipitation during the next decades, it will be largely in the form of rain rather than snow. Thus, for ski resorts such as the Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis, technical snowmaking will become a necessity. By collecting data on the aspects of this resorts’ slopes, and on where and when the snow is produced and with how much water, and then applying the latest climate change scenarios (CH2018) combined with the SkiSim 2.0 simulation software for projections of snow conditions with and without technical snowmaking, the experts discovered that the use of technical snow could guarantee a 100-day ski season, at least in the higher parts of the resort.

However, if greenhouse emissions will continue unabated, the business may be tight during the Christmas period, and regions such as Sedrun, for instance, will no longer be able to guarantee snow over Christmas in the long term. While new snow guns may alleviate the situation to a certain degree, they will not be able to solve the issue completely.

“Many people don’t realize that you also need certain weather conditions for snowmaking,” said study senior author Erika Hiltbrunner. “It must not be too warm or too humid, otherwise there will not be enough evaporation cooling for the sprayed water to freeze in the air and come down as snow.” In addition, since warm air absorbs more moisture, it will be increasingly difficult to produce snow technically. “Here, the laws of physics set clear limits for snowmaking,” Hiltbrunner added.

According to the scientists, if technical snowmaking will continue to be used as a way of keeping the resort operating, water consumption for snowmaking will increase by 80 percent. Thus, in an average winter towards the end of the century, consumption would amount to over 540 million liters of water (from about 300 million currently). Moreover, since some of the water used for snowmaking now comes from the Oberalpsee – which can provide a maximum of 200 million liters per year – by mid-century new sources will necessarily need to be exploited.

“The Oberalpsee is also used to produce hydroelectric power. Here, we are likely to see a conflict between the water demands for the ski resort and those for hydropower generation,” concluded lead author Maria Vorkauf, a scientist at the Agroscope research station.

The study is published in the International Journal of Biometeorology. 

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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