TOU-I-4: Snow cover for winter sports

The picture shows an operating snow cannon in a mountainous slope area where there is no snow.Click to enlarge
In snow-poor and mild winters, technical measures no longer ensure sufficient snow cover
Source: Photograph: © mg1708 / stock.adobe.com

2019 Monitoring Report on the German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change

Table of Contents

 

TOU-I-4: Snow cover for winter sports

For any of the ski-tourism areas in Germany, the number of days with a natural snow cover in depths of a minimum of 30 cm shows no significant trend. In all these areas there were, in the course of the past (just under) five years, occasionally or even periodically, snow-poor or snow-rich winters.

The line graph represents the number of days with snow depths of at least 30 centimetres in the Alps, the Black Forest, the Eastern Central Uplands and the Western and Central Central Uplands from 1970 to 2017. In all cases there is no trend. The values fluctuate very strongly between the years. The values are highest in all years for the Alps, followed by the eastern low mountain ranges, then the Black Forest, then the western and central low mountain ranges with the fewest snow days.
TOU-I-4: Snow cover for winter sports

The line graph represents the number of days with snow depths of at least 30 centimetres in the Alps, the Black Forest, the Eastern Central Uplands and the Western and Central Central Uplands from 1970 to 2017. In all cases there is no trend. The values fluctuate very strongly between the years. The values are highest in all years for the Alps, followed by the eastern low mountain ranges, then the Black Forest, then the western and central low mountain ranges with the fewest snow days.

Source: DWD (snowcover observation)
 

Snow guarantee in uplands and mountains diminishing?

Whether skiing or snowboarding. cross-country, touring or snow hiking – snow-covered mountains, snowy forests and radiant sunshine are the ultimate ideal of winter tourists and winter sports enthusiasts. If there is insufficient snow cover, the foundation for snow-related forms of tourism is undermined. Tourism destinations in uplands and high mountains may suffer distinct commercial losses if the snow cover is in decline, if guaranteed snow is more and more restricted to higher altitudes and if the periods of snow cover become inconsistent or if they shift.

The amount of snow cover required depends above all on the specific activity and the type of terrain. For cross-country skiing, snow depths of 10 to 15 cm are usually sufficient. As far as alpine skiing operations are concerned, it is the specific character of a ski slope which determines what minimum depth of snow is required in order to prepare pistes, to protect the soil, to ensure safe skiing operations and to provide the skier with a pleasant skiing experience. In general, snow in depths of 30 cm is regarded as sufficient, while 50 cm is considered good.72 However, stony and rocky pistes may require much deeper snow cover of up to 1 m depth to make them skiable. According to the so-called 100-day rule by Witmer73 the successful operation of a skiing area is only safeguarded, provided such conditions are guaranteed on at least one hundred days of the season.

An analysis of snow depth data recorded for the Alps and selected upland areas over the past (just under) five decades shows that the snow situation between 1970 and 2017 in all ski-tourism areas (‘Alps’, ‘Black Forest’, ‘Eastern Uplands’, ‘Western and Central Uplands’) was very changeable. The only place which was able, in all years, to boast a natural snow cover on more than 100 days – adequate for alpine ski sports – was the region of the Zugspitze. For reasons of altitude, that region and other skiing regions in the ski tourism area ’Alps’ offered the best snow conditions overall. Despite some strong fluctuations between the years, most of these ski regions had sufficient natural snow cover in most of those years. The situation can be compared to conditions in the eastern uplands: in the Erz Mountains in more than half of those years; while in the Bayerische Wald (Bavarian Forest) a little less than every other year. In the Black Forest and in western and central uplands, i.e. the Harz, Sauerland, Rhön, Thuringian Forest and the Fichtel Mountains, the prevailing conditions are fundamentally different. In those uplands the natural snow cover in most skiing regions reached the minimum depth of 30 cm on one hundred days only in particularly snowy years. Whereas snow cover in the Sauerland or the Rhön never reached those conditions.

It must be stressed that these data refer only to the natural potential of winter sports tourism in ski-tourism areas and their various regions. These findings do not permit any statements on the actual snow conditions in skiing areas. In those places the snow cover required for winter sports can be created or supplemented significantly by technical snowmaking. In response to a sequence of several snow-poor winters in a row, but also with a view to comparable activities offered by the international competition, the operators of skiing resorts have in some cases set up extensive infrastructures for artificial snowmaking. Artificial snow is the most wide-spread measure used to extend the season or to maintain skiing operations when faced with strong fluctuations in weather patterns. For the Alps in general, approximately half of the skiing areas can be supplied with artificial snow, while in the Bavarian Alps in 2009 approximately one sixth had artificial snow generation plant available.74 Between 2005 and 2017 the surface area in Bavaria where it is possible to apply artificial snow by 530 hectares to approx. 944 hectares.

Nevertheless, applications of artificial snow are bound by physical and economic limitations. Without the use of additives not licensed in Germany, it is necessary to reach temperatures of below –3° C to be able to generate artificial snow. The costs involved in artificial snow generation (investment, operational and maintenance costs) are considerable, and in rising temperatures costs become disproportionate. Besides, if infrastructures such as those in upland areas – owing to frequently snow-poor winters – are not continuously utilised to capacity, the profitability of such plant is seriously threatened. It is therefore obvious that such adaptation measures are bound by limitations of economy. Another limitation is that these measures will affect nature and the environment owing to their high requirements in terms of energy and water, the generation of artificial snow and the construction effort involved. This is one of the reasons why for instance the alpine states who are members of the Alpine Convention – whose objective it is to achieve sustainable development in the Alps – have agreed that the generation of artificial snow is permitted only in cold periods, on condition that the locally relevant hydrological, climatic and ecological conditions are favourable.

72 Agrawala S. (Hrsg.) 2007: Klimawandel in den Alpen: Anpassung des Wintertourismus und des Naturgefahrenmanagements. OECD Publications, Paris, 131 pp.
73 Bürki, R. 2000: Klimaänderungen und Anpassungsprozesse im Wintertourismus, Ostschweizerische Geographische Gesellschaft, Neue Reihe Heft 6, p. 40
74 LfU – Bayerisches Landesamt für Umwelt (Hrsg.) 2008: Beschneiungsanlagen und Kunstschnee. Reihe UmweltWissen Nr. 11, Augsburg, 8 pp.

 

 

Interfaces

TOU-I-7: Holiday destination preferences

 

Objectives

Forward-thinking contributions to spatial planning in respect of spatial adaptation measures in tourism, especially in coastal and mountain areas. Changes in tourism patterns may require new investments and new infrastructures which require appropriate preparations in terms of spatial planning. (DAS, ch. 3.2.14)

As far as possible landscape-compatible construction, maintenance and operation of skiing infrastructure with due consideration of natural systems and the vulnerability of biotopes; linking the licensing of snow generation in cold periods to compatibility with the locally relevant hydrological, climatic and ecological conditions (Alpine Convention Minutes on Tourism, item 14)

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 adaptation to climate change  KomPass  monitoring report  snow cover  winter sports  snow safety  skiing  winter tourism