Skico works with Swiss company on experiment to preserve snow
On the slopes just above the Spider Sabich Race Arena at Snowmass there is a sight guaranteed to make observers do a double take.
There is a big mound of snow, roughly 50 by 75 feet and 20 feet high. The exterior is rock hard to the touch, even on a sun-drenched fall day when the temperatures climb into the 60s.
The huge monolith appears out of place, as it was all summer. It survived direct exposure from the sun and temperatures that occasionally topped 80 degrees at the 9,000-foot elevation. It’s part of an experiment that a Swiss company convinced the Aspen Skiing Co. to participate in ” and it could result in a mini-technological revolution in the U.S. skiing industry.
The snow block is the remnant of a massive jump that was part of the snowboard terrain park at Snowmass, according to Rich Berkley, Skico general manager of mountain operations. The jump was covered until the first week of October by a snow blanket produced by a Swiss flooring firm called Landolt.
A company called Eiger International is promoting the snow blanket, formally called the Ice Protector Optiforce, as a way of preserving ice and snow at ski areas.
Berkeley said it is already used at European ski resorts as a sort of insurance policy against global warming. The snow blanket is spread over snow or ice at critical connections or access areas, such as ramps below chairlifts that get skiers to trails.
The blankets are used during summers to preserve the snow for the following ski season, to help resort operators open on time. Usually, Berkley said, the snow blanket is used in short stretches of terrain where snowmaking systems cannot be used and snowcats cannot push snow. The snow blankets aren’t practical to preserve snow on widespread patches of ski slopes, he said.
At Aspen/Snowmass, the snow blanket was tested this summer to see if there is practical application in preserving features like half-pipes and parts of terrain parks like the jump. If the snow that was preserved can be used again for the 2008-09 season, it could help reduce water and energy consumption needed for snowmaking, Berkeley said.
The blanket also could preserve snow, in theory, so that radical ski and snowboarding events could be presented under a blazing summer sun.
Tests in Austria and Switzerland indicated the Ice Protector preserved 80 percent of the snow and ice that was covered, according to Eiger International’s web site. Berkeley and Snowmass Ski Area Mountain Manager Steve Sewell said at least that much of the snow mound was preserved at Snowmass.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the test was a success. The critical factor is whether or not the snow within the big mound remained a state that can be worked with ” if it is malleable rather than a frozen chunk of ice, Berkeley said.
If the snow mound is workable, the Skico will still need to be convinced that the Landolt Ice Protector is cost-effective. The blanket is unwieldy and several would be required to cover a half-pipe, so there would be labor costs associated with working with it, Sewell said. On the plus side, the blanket could apparently be re-used season after season. The same material is used in subterranean construction projects such as tunnels, so the material has shown to be durable.
Berkeley figured the Skico had nothing to lose by participating in the experiment. He was approached by Eiger International’s representative in Telluride. The snow blanket was also tested this summer at the ski areas in Vail and Telluride.
Berkeley said the ability to work with the snow mound will be assessed later this fall with Eiger International’s representative.
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