Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

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Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Sep 18, 2019 1:43 pm

https://www.saminfo.com/archives/2010-2 ... ate-change

The detail article referenced is here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/a ... 8016305556

The maps in the above two references are a bit fuzzy to identify specific areas, but the data can be found in tables here: https://ars.els-cdn.com/content/image/1 ... -mmc2.docx\

In popular media there's a lot of hand waving about declining snowpacks, which are generally not that relevant to skiing because they are typically measured at lower elevations. This study made a good faith attempt to use data near ski areas where possible, and to adjust snowfall estimates up and temperature estimates down where the data fell short of ski area elevation. It also mentioned steepness and exposure as important variables for spring snowmelt.

It's easy to find strange numbers in the table. For example Squaw Valley looks much better than Alpine Meadows despite similar top elevation but Squaw's base is 800 feet lower. Interestingly, when I skied both in late March of the lean 2013-14 season Squaw did ski better because the layout allows you to stay on the top 1,000-1,500 vertical even though there was barely any snow at all at the base or on the lower half of KT. At Alpine most runs lead to or close to its 6,900 foot base. But I doubt the study took nuances like this into account. When the areas were independent, Alpine was regarded by Tahoe skiers as the superior shoulder season resort due to its higher base.

The study said the objective of many areas should be to get 450 hours of snowmaking done by Dec. 15. Soon it will be necessary to have state of the art snowmaking in terms of efficiency, computerization etc. to achieve that. But at western areas that have that, the fraction of terrain under snowmaking remains modest. Vail is bragging that it is adding 262 acres to the 500 acres of snowmaking it has now. That will bring Vail up to 14% of total acreage.

The article mentioned in passing that state of the art snowmaking is more widespread in the Alps. Extent of snowmaking is too, as sbooker's testimonial from Dolomites confirms. Liz and I saw one snowmaking pond at Ski Welt and it was twice the size of Mammoth's and probably not the only one. Austria has the highest proportion of low altitude resorts in the Alps and thus the most to lose if temperatures continue to rise at the rate of the past 40 years.

The likelihood of climate projections RCP4.5 or RCP8.5 in 2050 and 2090 is a different topic. But this study at least tries to apply those projections to US ski areas in a reasonable way. There are several such studies in the Alps, and Austria in particular.
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Re: Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby Sbooker » Wed Sep 18, 2019 10:28 pm

Interesting topic. I've had a brief look at the links but will read them in more detail later.

Aside from the extent of snowmaking another factor to ponder is the quality of snowmaking. I have skied on the granular stuff in Australia and NZ a few times and it is very different to the almost powder like man made pistes in north eastern Italy. Whether this is a result of different snowmaking techniques/machines or location (drier air) I don't know.
I would be interested to hear peoples opinion of the quality of the extensive man made snow at Sun Valley compared to that of the Euro Alps. Elevation at Sun Valley* is roughly comparable to the a lot of the Euro Alps while at the Aussie and NZ (and NE of US) hills it is significantly less. Perhaps this is a factor?
* I've only skied a couple of days at Sun Valley in January 2017. I didn't get to experience the man made snow at that time. :)
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Re: Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby sierra_cement » Thu Sep 19, 2019 11:57 am

One interesting number in the article is $3000 to $15000 per acre-foot of man-made snow. Vail must have made some calculation around how the terrible Christmas 2017 affected ticket sales, lodging bookings and other service revenue. Perhaps it created enough of a drop in revenue to justify the additional snowmaking.

I was not aware of the risks of planning a Christmas trip when I planned a Beaver Creek trip for Christmas 2018 9 months in advance. I got lucky last year. I can imagine that the people who lost money for Christmas 2017 trips would be very averse to paying high prices for a Christmas trip again in future. Unless there is snowmaking on sufficient terrain.

Many areas won't be able to make that justification and either they will have to reduce pass prices to factor in that uncertainty or shut down. There will only be a limited set of resorts available to ski Christmas, Spring Break or Easter and they are probably all going to be in the Rockies. This is probably going to lead to even more crowding in the Rockies and skiing becoming an even more expensive sport for families with school-going children. It would be hard to justify a season pass if you can only ski the one week school is off in February.

I'll enjoy skiing before it becomes out of reach for people with less than 7 figure income.
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Re: Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Sep 19, 2019 1:28 pm

Sbooker wrote:Interesting topic. I've had a brief look at the links but will read them in more detail later.

Aside from the extent of snowmaking another factor to ponder is the quality of snowmaking. I have skied on the granular stuff in Australia and NZ a few times and it is very different to the almost powder like man made pistes in north eastern Italy. Whether this is a result of different snowmaking techniques/machines or location (drier air) I don't know.
I would be interested to hear peoples opinion of the quality of the extensive man made snow at Sun Valley compared to that of the Euro Alps. Elevation at Sun Valley* is roughly comparable to the a lot of the Euro Alps while at the Aussie and NZ (and NE of US) hills it is significantly less. Perhaps this is a factor?
* I've only skied a couple of days at Sun Valley in January 2017. I didn't get to experience the man made snow at that time. :)


I got a tour of Sun Valley's snowmaking plant at the 2010 NASJA annual meeting:
http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards ... php?t=8842" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

I think Sun Valley has a very favorable climate for snowmaking quality as stated in my summary sentence:
This is not to say that the expertise is any better than Hunter/Big Bear etc. Sun Valley has considerable natural advantages in terms of low humidity, absence of rain and very favorable altitude/exposure on about half the mountain. Skier density is also low, probably making the overnight grooming job easier.


Here's a Mammoth TR mid-December of a drought year on nearly all manmade: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards ... php?t=9889" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; Mammoth's natural advantages are similar to Sun Valley's though the wind presents more of a challenge. Sun Valley has 645 acres of snowmaking coverage and Mammoth 470 acres. A key factor is water supply. Mammoth had abundant water that first drought year of 2011-12. After 4 consecutive drought years the pace of snowmaking terrain expansion in December became more gradual, but presumably Mammoth's water supply has been restored by the banner 2016-17 and 2018-19 seasons.

I was on another NASJA trip to New Zealand in 2006, which had by far the best snow conditions of my 8 ski trips to the Southern Hemisphere. My TR from Coronet Peak http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards ... f=6&t=2207" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; does not mention the snowmaking, but we had a presentation at lunch that day. The rep from Coronet was definitely proud of their snowmaking quality and said that half of the snowpack we were skiing on was manmade. He also said that when Coronet closes in late September, their snowmakers go to Loveland to work on the October opening there.

I have heard that sometimes Coronet Peak has the disparaging nickname Concrete Peak, but we all know that manmade snow does not hold up well with low altitude rain and melt/freeze events and that Coronet's altitude and modest natural snowfall of about 100 inches are significant challenges. All of the Aussie ski areas are similarly marginal in altitude, which also contributes to higher humidity vs. the American West or the Alps, bad for both snowmaking quality and snow preservation.

As noted before the scale of snowmaking complexes in the Alps dwarfs even major players like Sun Valley in North America. That does not make them immune from adverse weather, high skier traffic etc. There were a few bulletproof pitches in SkiWelt comparable to the Northeast US' finest.

My most frequent experience with manmade snow is here in SoCal, where Big Bear runs one of the finest operations anywhere. Its advantage over other SoCal areas is first and foremost its essentially unlimited water supply from Big Bear Lake. Despite Big Bear being an urban, fairly high density area, if you get on the manmade snow when it's freshly made in early season, it can be almost indistinguishable on groomers from the natural variety. I suspect sbooker and family got quite a bit of that in the Dolomites. Also if the manmade base is decent and then has a fair amount of natural snow ensuing, you can also get overall packed powder groomers without much of a hardpack subsurface. This was my experience at Coronet, Saalbach and in most of the Dolomites. But given even a bit of a melt/freeze or some heavy skier traffic, that telltale manmade hardpack will make itself evident. We saw a little of that around Selva, the busiest sector of the Dolomites and it was more frequent in SkiWelt and Kitzbuhel.

sierra_cement wrote:Many areas won't be able to make that justification and either they will have to reduce pass prices to factor in that uncertainty or shut down. There will only be a limited set of resorts available to ski Christmas, Spring Break or Easter and they are probably all going to be in the Rockies. This is probably going to lead to even more crowding in the Rockies and skiing becoming an even more expensive sport for families with school-going children. It would be hard to justify a season pass if you can only ski the one week school is off in February.

I'll enjoy skiing before it becomes out of reach for people with less than 7 figure income.

While the article was undoubtedly correct with respect to Christmas, spring break skiing is not as key to North American resort revenue as the article suggests. Kottke reports consistently show more skier visits from post New Year's to President's weekend than from after President's weekend. We all know that most remote resorts close in early April, often loaded with snow, because they can't attract destination visitors after then. Spring break is probably most important in Colorado, where that time frame has peak snowpack, often lots of powder and is not threatened by climate change for at least a century IMHO.

Spring break is more popular in the Alps than here, and many destination resorts run to late April. But it's also widely known in Europe to concentrate on the high altitude places there in March/April.

As for the temperature increases themselves, the actual observed increase since the 1970's has been at about the rate of 0.2C per decade, though not evenly with minimal increase 2001-2013. There are many reasons to take this seriously as it will take a long time to slow down and arrest the increase. However the higher resorts in both the Alps and North America are a long way from being affected at the current rate. Snowmaking advances will help a lot of intermediate altitude places to remain viable. Some low altitude regions will be in trouble in the intermediate term, and Australia is one of those places IMHO.
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Re: Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby Sbooker » Thu Sep 19, 2019 4:54 pm

^^^^^^^^^^^
Tony I note your very favourable comments regarding Coronet Peak. You're the guru here but I must have skied a different Coronet Peak the few times I've been there. In my view it's pretty flat and featureless. I remember my son skiing from the top of the mountain on his second days on skis - when he was three. Your view on CP is a contrast to your not so favourable comments regarding Thredbo in Oz. Again we must be talking about different hills...............but that is another story. :popcorn:

I'd read your report on Sun Valley's smowmaking system somewhere prior to now. I think that was part of the reason I committed to an early season trip a few years ago. As it happens we got two days of heavy snow. I doubt conditions could get any better. In fact I have vowed never to return to Ketchum for fear of having those wonderful memories tarnished.

I understand why you think the Australian ski season is under threat with it's not so ideal latitude and elevation. I'm no scientist but I would have to agree I guess. It's interesting to note we've had 3 much better than average seasons in a row (snowfall and snow pack I'm told). The last time we had three years on the trot with good conditions was in the very early 90's I believe.
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Re: Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Sep 19, 2019 6:48 pm

As noted late August 2006 had what I suspect were exceptionally good conditions. My first day at Coronet Peak in 1982 it poured rain the entire day. While I enjoyed Coronet Peak, Treble Cone is in a different league in terrain quality: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards ... 208#p12073 Is Coronet a better hill than Thredbo? I think so but it's close. They are very similar in average steepness and overall scale. Coronet's rather unique rolling hill topography is its main attraction, but it needs the wall-to-wall coverage I saw in 2006 to take advantage. I skied Thredbo in 1997 with good surfaces but low tide coverage.

I looked at Australia in some detail last year: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards ... =6&t=13368 That's a valuable data set as it goes back to 1954.

For that NASJA event at Stratton last year I tried to dig up as much info on potentially vulnerable North American locations, mostly in places with significant rain incidence. The worst trends are probably at Alyeska and Government Camp, which is relatively low on Mt. Hood in Oregon.
GovtCampWaterSnow.jpg

Timberline and Hood Meadows are higher up on Mt. Hood and get a ton of snow and not as much rain. You can see how the 2014-15 season alarmed skiers in the Northwest. Higher locations with a flatter trend still have big rain spike that season.

At Alyeska the bad trend is only the past 5 years but it's very severe.
AlyeskaMidTop.jpg

Every one of the past 5 seasons has had a higher portion of rain vs. snow than any of the previous 31 seasons. The top of Alyeska is exceptionally snowy, 575 inches in 2018-19 at 2,700 feet top of lift service. But if those same storms only snowed 125 inches at 1,500, that's a lot of rain and often marginal if any skiing on the lower half of the mountain down to the 250 foot base.

In the Northeast the rain trend is increasing but gradual, nowhere as steep as for Government Camp. But the proportion of rain is almost as much as at Government Camp with half the snowfall plus rain incidence in the shoulder seasons is very high.
PinkhamWaterSnow.jpg

But this is nothing new; Northeast skiing has always had rain problems.

The other issue is projected drought incidence at lower latitudes of 33-35 degrees. Snowfall this decade is trending down down in SoCal and Taos.
SoCalSnow.jpg

TaosSnow.jpg

It's been awhile since a big season in either of these. 2009-10 was the last season over 300 inches at Taos and 2004-05 was the last season over 200 inches in SoCal. In earlier years you would see a big season every 3-4 years on average.

In Chile recent drought has been more severe with the last above average season being 2009 and the past decade averaging only 2/3 the snowfall of prior years.
Lagunitas_Snowfall.jpg

Lagunitas is a copper mine between Portillo and Valle Nevado at comparable 9,000 foot elevation. The line is the average not the trend. The trend may not look terrible as there is another drought period early in the dataset. Volatility of precipitation at 33-35 degrees latitude is so high that it will take more time to draw any conclusion that the recent weather is permanent in these locations.

Rain incidence at marginal altitude/latitude should have a more clear relationship to warming temperatures. By the numbers Australia looks like a particularly vulnerable location. However the trend line at Spencer's Creek is fairly gradual.
Image
That graph looks a lot like the ones for Taos and SoCal. The last season with base over 250cm was 2000, and about 1/4 of seasons before then attained that benchmark.
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Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
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Re: Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby sierra_cement » Fri Sep 20, 2019 12:36 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:
Spring break is more popular in the Alps than here, and many destination resorts run to late April. But it's also widely known in Europe to concentrate on the high altitude places there in March/April.

As for the temperature increases themselves, the actual observed increase since the 1970's has been at about the rate of 0.2C per decade, though not evenly with minimal increase 2001-2012. There are many reasons to take this seriously as it will take a long time to slow down and arrest the increase. However the higher resorts in both the Alps and North America are a long way from being affected at the current rate. Snowmaking advances will help a lot of intermediate altitude places to remain viable. Some low altitude regions will be in trouble in the intermediate term, and Australia is one of those places IMHO.


Interesting. I think the important thing that we don't know is if this temperature rise will accelerate. We could have a runaway effect and could be in trouble in a lot of different ways we cannot imagine yet. And we are only speculating about how the quantity of precipitation will change.

It is sad to think that our choices as skiers will decrease over time due to climate change.
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Re: Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby sierra_cement » Fri Sep 20, 2019 4:04 pm

Tony Crocker wrote:The other issue is projected drought incidence at lower latitudes of 33-35 degrees. Snowfall this decade is trending down down in SoCal and Taos.
SoCalSnow.jpg

TaosSnow.jpg

It's been awhile since a big season in either of these. 2009-10 was the last season over 300 inches at Taos and 2004-05 was the last season over 200 inches in SoCal. In earlier years you would see a big season every 3-4 years on average.

In Chile recent drought has been more severe with the last above average season being 2009 and the past decade averaging only 2/3 the snowfall of prior years.
Rain incidence at marginal altitude/latitude should have a more clear relationship to warming temperatures. By the numbers Australia looks like a particularly vulnerable location. However the trend line at Spencer's Creek is fairly gradual.
Image
That graph looks a lot like the ones for Taos and SoCal. The last season with base over 250cm was 2000, and about 1/4 of seasons before then attained that benchmark.

This is an amazing analysis.
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Re: Can Snowmaking Compensate for Climate Change?

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Sep 24, 2019 12:31 pm

sierra_cement wrote:Interesting. I think the important thing that we don't know is if this temperature rise will accelerate. We could have a runaway effect and could be in trouble in a lot of different ways we cannot imagine yet. And we are only speculating about how the quantity of precipitation will change.

Yes, the effects are unknown and there is a wide probability distribution. It is annoying to read constantly that there is a clear cut tipping point at +2C past which there will be catastrophic effects. The current effects of +1C are certainly "something we can live with" but the ultimate effects of that +1C are not yet known as melting of glaciers and Arctic ice occur gradually over time before reaching an equilibrium at some higher temperature. That melting continued during the 2001-2013 period of flat temperatures.

The really bad scenarios like tens of feet sea level rise, sudden release of methane from permafrost, etc. may be low probability events in perhaps the 10% range. But we routinely insure our cars and houses against lower probability events than that.
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Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
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