Icebergs are melting. A ski resort retaliates
Yet there are crucial differences. The production of artificial snow requires large amounts of water and energy. When tuned to produce snow of standard weight and humidity, the TR10 blower, TechnoAlpin’s latest most efficient model, can produce around 90 cubic meters per hour, Pötz explains. But for that, you need 10 liters of water per second, and 23KW / h of electricity, about 10 times more than an electric oven, one of the most energy-consuming household appliances. Technology doesn’t come cheap either. A single TR10 mounted on a mobile will cost around € 50,000 at a ski resort. On glaciers like the Presena, there is the added complication of having to mount the cannons on moving ice, which can bend and break the hoses, resulting in additional maintenance costs.
“We spend around € 200,000 to make snow every year,” explains Daldoss, of the Carosello-Tonale company. The geotextile sheets they use are also expensive and usually need to be replaced after a few seasons because time tears them apart or heat-absorbing dirt becomes embedded in the felt, reducing its albedo effect. “We spend € 200,000 every year putting them on and taking them out,” explains Daldoss, “but if you include maintenance, the whole project might cost maybe € 500,000 or € 600,000. “
For a ski resort operator like the Carosello-Tonale company, half a million euros might be an acceptable annual expense. But this greatly limits the likelihood that similar techniques can be used on one of Trentino’s ‘wild’ glaciers – or anywhere else in the world. “You think that here you are spending € 200,000 [on installation], says Daldoss. “But we use our machines and our people. If you wanted to cover a glacier like the Adamello [Trentino’s largest], for example, you would need to go with a helicopter, move machines over there, back them up. You would spend at least 2 million euros. It’s impossible, it’s too big.
Then, of course, there are the environmental costs. The irony of a project like Presena’s is that the energy-intensive technologies used to save the glacier are contributing to the root cause of its demise. Making replacement geotextile sheets every two to three years requires more polypropylene, a fossil fuel derivative. Add to that the phenomenal amount of electricity needed to power the snow cannons, the diesel burned by the trackers and the resources needed to keep people working safely in harsh environments at high altitudes, and the limitations of the approach. become clear.
Improvements are underway. Pötz says TechnoAlpin recently installed a fully hydropower-powered snowmaking system in Switzerland. It is also planned to use wind turbines as a source of energy. Senese is currently exploring geotextiles made from more environmentally friendly materials – research funded, among others, by mineral water makers San Pellegrino. “We are testing a biochemical derived from corn,” she says. “I hope that we will soon have protocols, standards for a sustainable use of geotextiles”.
Yet, as Senese points out, none of these changes would remove the need for a massive amount of infrastructure on a “wild” glacier where these technological “fixes” could be tested. It would require digging and disrupting the installation of equipment, pollution from snow tracks and a constant human presence required to keep everything running.