People often take snow on the ground for granted, but ski resorts cannot afford to do the same. Snow is critical to their operation and economic viability. However, global warming makes forecasting of when and how much snow falls hard to pin down. One way ski resorts can ‘weather-proof’ their operation is through snowmaking. This common solution allows ski resorts to cope with fluctuations of natural snowfall and provide snow-covered ski slopes all year long but, still, it requires a lot of water and it doesn’t overcome all the challenges. Resorts would still face a difficulty: current forecasting tools are limited in their ability to predict snowfall on various timescales ranging from days to weeks to months. This is where the EU-funded PROSNOW comes in. “PROSNOW’s ambition was to build a seamless weather and climate planning tool that should help ski resorts manage the use of artificial snow,” notes project coordinator Samuel Morin. The new tool can make winter resorts more resilient to climate change by accurately forecasting seasonal snowfall and temperatures combined with long-term climate projections, this information could help better planning for the future.
An emerging climate service for seasonal forecast on snow conditions
The PROSNOW® tool is an emerging European climate service that helps ski resorts to make better decisions. It can predict the snow conditions from the next few days (up to 5 days) to a whole season. All information is provided at a segmented ski slope level at a minimum of 1-hour resolution. The integration of weather and seasonal forecasts serves as input to high-resolution models of snow cover. The snow models simulate snow melting, changes in snow structure, and the impact of grooming and snowmaking configurations. The operational tool combines these models with on-site data, remote sensing snow-cover data and statistical data from past observations. PROSNOW® eases the decision-making process and provides more precise snow data to inform snow management strategies and tactics throughout the winter season. “We offer a seamless system for predicting snow cover, snow depth, and the combination of natural snowfall and technical snowmaking. Ski area operators can thus decide which operations they want to perform on the slope. With the service we offer, we also help operators to monitor and better manage water and energy use,” explains Morin.
Addressing key concerns and surpassing expectations
Building trust with ski area operators who typically express scepticism about various innovative weather forecast solutions was particularly rewarding. Some of their concerns come from the inherent uncertainty involved with any forecast in mountain regions more than about 5 days out. “PROSNOW is in fact very useful for us. At the beginning we were afraid that the project would have been too far from our operational needs. But we are happy to see that the results of theoretical research can have very direct and practical applications to our everyday-life in ski-resorts,” notes Nicolas Briançon, snow manager at ‘La Plagne’ ski resort, France. Commercial exploitation of PROSNOW® will prove a tremendous boon for more than 600 ski resorts in the Alps over the 2020/2021 winter season. Scientists are working to further improve the planning tool so that it can find use in more ski resorts across Europe. A series of webinars is also currently taking place to present the tool.
PROSNOW, ski resort, snow cover, snowmaking, planning tool, climate change, weather forecast