It's Getting Harder to Make Artificial Snow
By Jamie Li
March 17, 2023
UPDATED 12:00 PM
[Photo Credit: Aspen Snowmass]
With rising temperatures, ski resorts find it increasingly challenging to produce snow for the season. With little snowfall in December and rain washing out the little that did. Many pistes closed, and some entire resorts shut down until 2023. As climate change continues to warm the world, artificial snow becomes crucial and progressively arduous to produce.
Making snow, whether natural or artificial, involves two aspects: cold temperatures and frozen water. Weather conditions are critical; when trying to make snow, people look at the bulb temperatures, which measure the temperature and the moisture. Wet bulb temperatures examine the lowest temperature where the evaporation of water causes air to be cooled; a wet bulb temperature of -2°C (28°F) or lower creates snow. The artificial snow process is similar to the natural one. In nature, snowflakes form when cold water freezes onto small nuclei, such as dust. When water droplets are blasted into the air, they become the nuclei, allowing moisture to freeze onto it. In summary, resorts create artificial snow by pushing pressurized air and water through a snow gun.
Although artificial snow can help a ski resort when a season begins, it is not a foolproof solution. Cold temperatures are still essential regarding human-made snow, and the temperature is consistently increasing. Moreover, creating snow is extremely energy intensive; a 2011 review of Swedish snowmaking demonstrated the electricity used for 2 meters of cubed snow was the same as what a typical British household uses daily. Furthermore, water, the other essential ingredient in making snow, is becoming scarcer. Therefore, the cost of artificial snow is unsustainable since powering hundreds to thousands of snowmaking machines is not cheap.
[Credit: Bill LeClair]
This drives us to wonder whether or not ski resorts will survive climate change. Perhaps in the short term, as the climate warms, current resorts will become obsolete, but areas further north will become the perfect temperature for snow sports. However, creating a new resort every couple of years is unrealistic and has tremendous economic and environmental costs. Clearing more massive natural areas by chopping down trees and destroying natural ecosystems, cannot be a viable answer to the ski resort problem. Some ski resorts are working to limit their carbon footprint, such as Aspen Skiing Company, which invested $5.3 million in a power plant after solar energy was not enough to sustain the hills. Resorts are adapting to the warming temperatures and limited snowmaking by expanding to other activities such as mountain biking, paragliding, and tobogganing on rails, which rely on mountains instead of snow. Therefore, while resorts can limit their carbon footprint and switch to other activities, the only way for snowsports to survive is for climate change to slow.
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