TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT
How Mother Nature’s assistants work & the technology used on the mountain!
Fancy a look behind the scenes on a ski mountain? Then you've come to the right place! Find out more about piste preparation, snow-making and get info on the following topics:
What is a good snow sport piste?
Most snow sport fans prefer a homogeneous piste with as little damage and as few surprises as possible, such as holes or accumulations of soft snow.
To suit the characteristics of modern skis and snowboards the snow must be as hard as possible, without being icy.
How does a good snow sports piste come about?
Two different processes are responsible for snow being hard or firm: freezing and sintering. Freezing is most likely the better-known process:
When snow is warmed up to zero degrees Celsius (e.g. by the sun or rain), it begins to melt.
When the snow-water mixture cools again, the water freezes and turns into ice. Depending on the amount of water present, the piste then becomes hard to icy.
The organisers of World Cup races often use this freezing process to their advantage: A few days before the race, they soak the snow with water.
For anyone who is not a racer, however, these pistes are tough to tackle.
So the sintering process is used rather than the freezing process (except in spring) for grassroots sport.
The green cable car
"The green cable car" describes the efforts of Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen's comprehensive, sustainable, resource-efficient and environmentally-oriented company policy. More than 99% of the slope surfaces are located on third party-owned ground.
The Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen place great emphasis on a working partnership with agriculture, land owners, forest cooperatives, the local population and institutions and organizations active in the areas of nature and the environment (e.g. the Alpine Association, mountain guides, etc.).
Resource-efficient snow management
Producing the maximum amount of snow in the shortest time possible will not be enough in the future.
The focus will instead be on producing snow efficiently, inexpensively and in an eco-friendly manner and thus resource-efficiently. Firing away with every available snow cannon simply won’t do.
Resource-efficient snow management includes the following major factors:
- Piste design and construction
- Greening / summer cultivation
- Technical provision of snow-making equipment (hybrid systems: lance and propeller snow-makers)
- Efficient use of snow-making equipment and groomers (depending on a variety of external conditions)
- Ponds for snow-making, closed circular pipelines
- Multiple use of meadows and pastures (forest trails become ski trails; ponds that serve for snowmaking and fire protection, etc.)
- Automatic snow depth measurement using the snowcat
The goal is to produce a uniformly distributed, compact layer of snow on the pistes, so that exactly the right amount of snow will be where it’s needed most.
One part of this project is the use of an electronic snow depth gauge, which is fitted directly onto the snowcat.
How does this system work?
The GPS infrastructure is integrated into the snowcat. This system can measure the original terrain and the depth of the snow layer (with a minimal deviation of approx. 3-5 cm). It’s based on a precise picture of the original terrain taken in summer; the new device can establish the depth of snow by measuring the distance to the surface. The snowcat driver can read the depth of snow over which he is driving directly and immediately on the display. The measurement data can also be displayed graphically and printed out as a terrain map with the various snow depths, thus immediately revealing snow deposits and weaker layers of snow.
What is the point of automatically measuring the snow depth?
- It allows the snowcat driver to evenly distribute the snow.
- The overview of the snow distribution on a map allows the company to produce snow in targeted areas, as well as to identify snow deposits.
- The snow depth measurement thus reduces snow production and piste preparation costs.
A further advantage is that it is possible to document the efficiency and performance of the snow equipment, and thus develop a corresponding snow strategy.
Piste construction & greening
The Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen strives to design the construction and operation of its pistes in partnership with land owners so that there is a beneficial impact on agriculture. In many cases, there has even been an improvement over the previous status quo, in which somewhat poor forest credit ratings have been converted into fertile meadows / pastures. Furthermore, the multiple use of ski trails / forest trails, for example, is also extremely sensible and positive.
The foundations of a perfect piste in the winter and a "green" piste in the summer are laid during construction.
The use of excavators, applying sufficient topsoil after successful levelling and the removal of stones from the surfaces are basic prerequisites for subsequent success.
Greening with plants and/or seeds suitable to the location is a further vital step in the creation of a new ski piste.
Suitable Alpine seed mixtures have been developed together with the LFZ Raumberg-Gumpenstein research center for this purpose.
Eco-audits: Winter sports in the Alps are vital for tourism and the health of the regional economy. However, the development of skiing hitherto has been associated with the growth of skiing areas and a steady increase in their capacity.
Various studies on skiing areas have highlighted the following environmental impacts:
- Qualitative and quantitative changes to the ski area due to piste construction and/or conversion with leveling and clearing
- Skiing (mechanical damage, disruption of wildlife habitats)
- The dual and/or multiple use of Alpine habitats for winter sports, alpine pastures, forestry and summer tourism function characteristic to many ski areas, which are often not mutually compatible.
There are, however, many ways of upgrading ski areas (e.g. through restoration of damaged areas, long-term care concepts, PR and control measures, etc.) and of enhancing their stability and suitability as a habitat for local fauna and flora.
In this context, the question arises of identifying the tools for promoting a development path for the continuous upgrading of surfaces used for ski sports.
Self‑responsibility should provide a basis for this, with regulatory requirements and checks being applied in a restrained manner.
One such potential tool is the use of eco-audits.
To implement this, the "pro natura – pro ski" foundation was established in December 1999.
This institution commissioned the "Eco Audit of Ski Areas" project. In this context, a range of test ski areas was also selected. Planai-Hochwurzen was the only Austrian ski region that took part.
The project report contains the following information:
In this problem-oriented, extensive analysis, the historical development of the ski region, its current uses, current vegetation and the most important animals active in winter were described in detail, as well as the present environmental burdens.
On the basis of this environmentally-relevant data, analysis and evaluation of the output data was then performed, to determine weak points. In partnership with experienced employees and external experts, the strong and weak points of the individual topics were established and discussed in this analysis. The outcomes of the environmental audit formed the basis for the environmental program. In this program, all relevant goals and measures for eliminating the weak points were formulated and put in concrete terms regarding their priority and timeframe.
A quotation from the report:
"Overall, this confirmed the already known image of the Planaibahn cableway as a mountain cableway which is already involved in the "green" area in a very progressive and committed manner.
This can be demonstrated by establishing the locally restricted damage, which is minimal. The major attempt to establish erosion-inhibiting plant cover, even after changes have been made to the piste, are clearly visible.
A further positive factor is the cooperation with local agriculture in the field of piste care."
"Stratege" climate study
STRATEGE– Strategies for the long-term expansion of tourist regions affected by global warming using the example of the winter sports region Schladming
Univ. Prof. DI Dr. Ulrike Pröbstl, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna
The impact of climate change on the Schladming winter sports region and strategies for action derived thereof are the focus of the "STRATEGE" proVision program project financed by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research.
Since November 2005, Univ. Prof. Dr. Ulrike Pröbstl from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences has been working with an interdisciplinary research team and partners from the cable car industry (Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen Schladming, the Cable Car Association) on climate models, regional analyses and market studies for the Schladming region.
The climate data analysis identified clear indications of change, even for Schladming.
Compared with conditions in the 1960s and 1970s, in the period between 1988 and 2002 snowfall was 40% lower in January. Unlike many global catastrophe scenarios for ski regions at lower elevations, STRATEGE indicated that due to the favorable local conditions provided by its narrow valley, winter sports would still be able to operate over the coming decades. However, fresh approaches - a change - will be required by 2030 at the latest.