Snow guns vs Nature

07.02.2014 | kyivweekly.com.ua

Warm winters without snow have become par for the course in the past years. Given this, in order to maintain the functioning of ski resorts their owners have to use snow cannons that cover ski trails with artificial snow. Initially, they were used only for evening the layers of snow on the trails, but today they are often used as a substitute for natural snow to cover not only ski trails, but also valleys at ski resorts with artificial snow. The question is, however, is this safe for the environment?

Axel Doering, an environmental activist at the Nature Conservation Fund of Germany, speaks on this issue in an interview for Die Welt. Trails need to be very well planned in order to effectively use artificial snow, because every rough edge requires more snow. In summer, the water from them flows much faster, which increases the danger of mudslides and soil erosion. In case of a flood the water from ski trails flows down to a flood zone, which aggravates the problem. Overall, 35 times more volumes of water flow down one ski trail than on a mountain slope covered by a healthy mixed forest. This fact in itself is not a disaster, but it could easily cause such an emergency situation, says the expert. In addition to that, he claims that artificial snowmaking in such high volumes is expensive and ineffective in terms of energy consumption. Doering says the equal to the area of Lake Bodensee, the largest lake in the Alps, 536 sq m is covered with artificial snow in the Alps. Moreover, the same amount of water as in the city of Munich is consumed in one year and the same amount of electricity or even more in Nuremberg. All this does not destroy the climate, though it is an alarming signal for those who believe that such energy costs can help return winter, says Doering.

Answering the question about alternatives to the existing artificial snow, the activist says ski resorts should not be oriented towards the equipment for ski trails, but instead offer ordinary cross country skiing to tourists. Snowfalls are always unreliable and during the months the level of snow in the mountains increases closer to the Easter holidays. The problem is that even in optimal conditions, people are not very interested in skiing on Easter. That is why it is important to develop alternatives to recreational activities linked with artificial snow and snow in general, particularly since the change of climate will soon lead to a situation when it will be more expensive and totally impossible to engage in winter sports in the mountainous regions located at altitudes below than 1,500 meters, assures Doering.

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