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Artificial snow to save the cross-country ski season?

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar16,2024

Artificial snow to save the ski season background?

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It is increasingly common for ski clubs to use artificial snow. (Archive photo)

  • Jean-François Gérard (View profile)Jean-François Gérard

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Faced with a lack of snow and repeated warm winters, cross-country ski resorts are using artificial snow to accommodate athletes, while others are considering investing in equipment.

The practice is widespread for alpine skiing, but remains rare for cross-country skiers for economic reasons.

Sports equity notably motivated the Nakkertok cross-country ski club in Gatineau to launch a snow factory in 2016.

We wanted a playing field comparable to those in British Columbia or in the mountains, says Anton Scheier, director of communications for the national championship which is held there from March 10 to 16.

Eight years later, he says he is very satisfied with the results.

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Without artificial snow, we could not organize the national championships

A quote from Anton Scheier, involved with the Nakkertok cross-country ski club

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For cross-country skiing, small snow cannons can snow a small area with precision and are easy to move along trails.

For To produce its snow, the club sprays pressurized water into the air and, with subzero temperatures, it falls to the ground in the form of ice crystals.

The center has 19 fire hydrants and 9 small cannons that connect to underground pipes.

The production of artificial snow for cross-country ski trails is different from that for downhill runs. Cross-country trails are often in the woods, says Richard Lemoine, former president of Cross Country Ski Ontario and still involved with a non-profit ski club near Collingwood, Ont.

It is therefore difficult to project water into the sky, which would remain on the branches. You either need small cannons, like in Nakkertok, or move piles of snow with vehicles, which is more expensive.

Two or three people set up the snow cannons around the course, measure whether the snow is accumulating, then move them to another location, describes Anton Scheier, who is also involved in the club. The organization had no knowledge in the field when it started.

The operation requires two to three weeks with assistance of volunteers, which minimizes costs. The Nakkertok club invested $465,000 in its facilities, more than half financed by a grant from Kraft Heinz.

At Highlands Nordic Ski Centre, south of Collingwood, around $150,000 was budgeted in 2018 to snow 700 meters of slopes using three electric fans to spray snow. But 6 years later, the project has not yet materialized, because it requires environmental authorizations.

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Cross-country skiing on a trail, but in the middle of snowless meadows, an image that should be reproduced in the future.

Daniel Scott, a professor at the University of Waterloo, published a study on artificial snow in 2023, where he projects that production will increase by 55 to 97% by 2050 in Canada. He explains that the economic incentives for snow production are different depending on the sport.

In the case of alpine skiing, thousands of people hit the slopes every day at high prices and then spend on other nearby services , such as hotels and restaurants.

On the other hand, the number of people willing to pay is lower. It's more difficult economically, but it makes sense where elite athletes train, analyzes Professor Scott.

What Regardless of the cost, cold temperatures are necessary to make snow.

Richard Lemoine reports that this winter, even if the club had had cannons, the season would have been disrupted: There would not have been enough cold nights for them to make snow for the slopes at the bottom of the area.< /p>

You can make snow in 2 degree weather, but it's ineffective.< /p>A quote from Richard Lemoine, former president of Cross Country Ski Ontario

However, in the long term, this type of winter should recur. This warming is expected to continue for the next 10 to 30 years, says Nathan Gillett, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activities could lead to a stabilization of the shortening of winters around 2050.

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Another possibility for distributing snow on a cross-country ski trail is to use a snow groomer, but this involves higher operating costs . (Archive photo)

In a previous study, Daniel Scott projected that the number of winter days in Ontario could reduce by 60%, from 117 to 46 days under the most pessimistic warming scenarios.

If the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit of the Paris agreement is respected, which is already unlikely according to Nathan Gillett, winters would remain comparable to those of recent years.< /p>

Unlike large fans, used to snow clear areas, unlike woodland trails, small cannons such as used in cross-country ski trails do not require electricity, but compressed air and pressure.

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Large snow blowers require electricity to spray snow. They work especially on large open areas.

For Daniel Scott, there are places where snow is made unsustainably and others where it's quite sustainable, depending on how the energy is produced and the water source.

Currently, 80 to 90% of the water put on the slopes returns to the same watershed when it melts at the bottom in the spring, assures the researcher.

Finally, Daniel Scott sees an ecological virtue in artificial snow. Keeping skiers closer to home can help reduce tourism-related emissions.

As long as it's still cold enough there.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my natasha@thetimeshub.in 1-800-268-7116

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