Scooping white flakes out of a pillow is known to only work in fairy tales. On the other hand, the highest quality of slopes with a simultaneous reduction in the resources used does not belong in the realm of fantasy. A look into the crystal ball reveals that it is high time to pay more attention to the subject of snowmaking!
For a long time, snow was considered an unquestioned prerequisite for winter tourism in the Alps. The rules of the game have changed over the past few years. Cold snaps in autumn are not only milder, they are also being pushed back further and further - and increasingly endangering the Christmas business. Mag. Franz Schafflinger, CEO of Gasteiner Bergbahnen AG and Robert Sölkner, Managing Director of ARENA PistenManagement, who have jointly developed a master plan for snow management in Gastein, report on how these challenges can be met in the future.
“Snow is our livelihood, we have to be clear about that. That's why it's not enough to regard it as natural, but we have to actively raise awareness of the snow," says Schafflinger, who is responsible for one of Austria's most traditional ski areas in the Gastein Valley. But tradition alone is far from preparing for the challenges of the present. These can only be mastered if all gears mesh perfectly. Infrastructure and technical equipment are only one side of the coin. Strategic planning and flexibility the other. Competitiveness can only be maintained in the coming years if these factors interact.
Use digital opportunities
The past two years have not been easy for the ropeway industry. But if the pandemic has brought something positive, it is the acceleration of digitization in all areas of society. ARENA Managing Director Robert Sölkner knows exactly what opportunities digitization and data analysis bring to the slopes. His company has specialized in the field of piste management and has developed methods to save massive amounts of money and resources through the ongoing evaluation of measurement data - without having to make any compromises in the quality of the piste.
read the snow
With the help of a snow depth measurement, it is possible to precisely quantify the snow cover in all sections of the piste, taking into account sea level, sun exposure and slope of the terrain. “In this way, we can calculate the ideal amount of snow for every slope, for every flat section, and immediately identify surpluses or deficits. As a result, every square meter of slope is optimally supplied with snow,” reveals Sölkner. If these measurement data are compared with the amounts of precipitation from the ZAMG (Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics), the proportion of technical and natural snow can be determined with centimeter precision. This gives the snow masters a tool that allows them to know the status quo of their slope at any time and to react accordingly.
Work with foresight
However, this procedure can also be used to identify snow eaters such as hills and hollows in the terrain, which have to be compensated for with snow for the piste to operate. “Based on the data analysis, it can be seen where you can already build in the summer by filling these holes with earth – where it is ecologically justifiable. In this way, the terrain is optimally prepared for winter operation and you can save considerable amounts of snow. This pays off both economically and ecologically.” In the future, these historical measurement data will also be combined with the ZAMG weather forecast. The actual condition of the slope is thus extended by the time factor.
Improvement at eye level
In order to create the framework conditions for these savings, it takes courage to change and open communication. That's why the Gasteiner Bergbahnen actively involved their team in the process from the very beginning. “This is the only way to transparently communicate how and, above all, why we are taking these steps. This removes the breeding ground for rumors and everyone knows where they stand. Then it also works in the implementation.” It is important for Robert Sölkner to emphasize that ARENA as a consultant is by no means pointing fingers. “We want to give our customers the best possible support and help them to help themselves. The view from the outside often reveals a need for improvement. It's not always pleasant, but you have to deal with it in order to move forward. That is also part of our work.”
A master plan was drawn up in close cooperation between the Gasteiner Bergbahnen and ARENA PistenManagement, which is intended to get the most out of the slopes in the coming seasons. "We have set our priorities and, based on the available data, have developed flexible action plans that are available in writing to our entire team." In this way, Franz Schafflinger ensures that everyone in his company can pull together and that a good basic supply is guaranteed despite the meager amounts of snow at the beginning of the season. It's not enough to talk about change. Change must be brought about. The Gasteiner Bergbahnen and ARENA PistenManagement show how the analysis of big data and the everyday practice of the cable car operators can symbiotically intertwine,
Because leaning back and hoping that everything stays the way it is will probably not be enough in these times.
You can find out how you can use your resources optimally in the current white paper from ARENA PistenManagement!
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