Snow Farming & Glacier Fleece
Winter slope grooming helps to reduce the rate at which our glaciers melt. This happens because we roll the snow smooth and thus press it down, which means that it has less surface structure and is lighter due to its compactness – these light surfaces reflect the sun’s rays. The brightness and compactness of the pressed snow thus slows down the melting of the glacier surface. By means of wind fences and artificially raised snow walls and trenches, we manage to collect additional snow and then distribute it on the slopes – the term “snow farming” has come into use for this technique. The approach has two main advantages: Depots of artificial and natural snow protect the receding glacier tongues in summer and enable an early start to the season in autumn.
In recent years, the formation of snow depots has become established on the Pitztal Glacier, which are covered with a glacier fleece over the short summer months. This has the advantage that the snow is preserved over the summer and we can guarantee a season start at the end of September. This is because snowmaking in summer is not possible and also not permitted. With the right implementation and a good location, up to 80% of the snow can last through the summer. We do not use this practice in our winter skiing area at the Rifflsee, because due to the lower altitude, the warmer temperatures as well as a much later start of the season in December, the snow volume losses seem too high in relation to us, and the preservation of snow on summer meadows in contrast to “snow farming” on glacier surfaces seems unnatural to us.
Pilot studies have shown an ecological concern with the use of polypropylene geotextiles on glacier surfaces due to emission sources for plastic fibres. In 2020, the Austrian National Council passed a resolution on the issue of microplastics. The federal government has therefore requested that an action plan against microplastics be drawn up, one aspect of which is to reduce the discharge of microplastics from glacier fleece and snow depot covers and to develop alternative covers.
We at the Pitztal Gletscherbahn also do not want microplastics to end up in our sensitive natural environment, because glaciers are not a dead mass of ice, but active ecosystems.
We cannot solve the problem on our own, which is why we are trying to develop an ecologically compatible alternative together with the Austrian Cable Car Association, the University of Innsbruck and other glacier and winter ski resorts. Only together can we strive for a solution and further develop materials. There is currently no alternative to covering with geotextiles, although scientific research is of course being carried out into new alternatives.