Droughts lead ski resorts to more efficient snowmaking
Ski resorts are investing millions in more efficient snowmaking machines
Ski resorts are looking for ways to make snow more efficiently as droughts continue to hit the western U.S.
According to the Associated Press, snowpack in the West has decreased by about 20% in the last 100 years, which means snowmaking has become more and more important to the ski industry.
With environmental concerns, including the ongoing droughts, ski resorts are investing in more efficient snowmaking machines amid questions about whether snowmaking is a wise use of energy and water, AP reported.
"There are impacts. They're regrettable. We’d rather not have to make snow," Auden Schendler, senior vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co. in Colorado, told AP. "But our regional economy and the economies of all ski towns depend on your ski resort operating. And so this is a necessary evil."
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According to AP, ski resorts often take water from nearby streams or reservoirs and use compressed air and electricity to blow snow into piles on the slopes, which are spread into a base layer of snow. That base layer allows ski resorts to open in early winter and stay open through spring.
Ski resorts in Colorado were found to divert about 1.5 billion gallons of water per year, AP reported, citing Kevin Rein, a state engineer and the director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Though it sounds like a lot, Rein said that that’s less than one-tenth of 1% of the water that’s diverted in Colorado. Additionally, 80% of water used to make snow returns to the watershed in the spring after the snow melts, AP reported.
Snowmaking is also considered a "beneficial use," Rein told AP, because it's part of Colorado’s tourism.
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However, Patrick Belmont, a professor and head of the Department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University, told AP that snowmaking uses a lot of energy to make and a lot of water is lost in the process. He also said man-made snow is denser and melts later than real snow, which can affect stream flows and organisms that live in the streams.
"It’s not insignificant, especially in a place where we don’t have a whole lot of water to begin with. ... Every drop of water matters," he told AP.
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In the face of environmental concerns, ski resorts are working at being more efficient and environmentally friendly by improving their snowmaking, AP reported.
Some resorts have dug storage ponds to collect water in the spring, while others are considering using reclaimed wastewater, according to AP.
Other ski resorts are investing millions into smarter and more energy-efficient snow guns that blast more snow, faster and with less energy. Some newer snow guns even automatically shut down when the weather gets too warm and can regulate water output, AP reported.
According to the outlet, Vail Resorts announced in December that it will invest $3.6 million into sustainability efforts this year.
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Though it’s a start, advocates say there is still more to be done.
"We can do what we can in our own operations, but if there’s going to be a future in outdoor recreation and a future for humanity just in general, we’re going to need every kind of solution we can find," Adrienne Saia Isaac, a spokeswoman for the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) told AP. "We’ve got to effect change now."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.