How Skiing Can Survive Climate Change
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How Skiing Can Survive Climate Change

From artificial clouds to autonomous snow-grooming vehicles, here are 12 ways for ski areas to weather warmer temperatures and less snow.

By BENOIT MORENNE
Tue, Feb 16, 2021 1:22amGrey Clock 5 min

Downhill skiing could become an increasingly exotic proposition in a warming world. By midcentury, the U.S. could see 90 fewer days below freezing each year, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Climate and based on data from the federally funded North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program. Nearly all ski areas in the U.S. are projected to have at least a 50% shorter season by 2050, according to a 2017 study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and published in the Global Environmental Change journal.

Higher temperatures make snow more elusive on the slopes, cutting into revenues for ski areas. Low snow years between 1999 and 2010 already cost ski areas an estimated $1 billion in revenue, according to a 2012 analysis commissioned by the nonprofits Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Today, ski areas run snow guns 24/7 as soon as cold weather hits and send GPS-guided snowcat vehicles to the slopes to distribute snowpack. Snow-making technologies are making rapid advances and could alleviate some of the burden of weather volatility. Winter skiing could also be less of a focus as resorts become year-round destinations and offer more activities. Climate change presents ski areas with an opportunity to reduce their own carbon footprint by switching to cleaner energy sources.

From autonomous snowcats to solar-powered properties, take a look at what ski resorts might look like in the coming years.

 

Enhanced Snowfalls

Modifying clouds to boost mountain snowpack, or cloud seeding, has been done over Colorado’s ski areas for decades, but was scientifically proven effective only last year. It involves using generators to spray silver iodide into a frigid cloud to turn water droplets into snow, and it can increase snowfalls by up to 15%, says Neil Brackin, the CEO of Colorado-based Advanced Radar Co., a firm that sells weather radar systems. Tomorrow’s generators may be more accurate and deliver more advanced seeding materials into the sky, Mr Brackin says. Cloud-seeding programs could cost ski areas $100,000 to $1 million annually, he says.

Fleets of Artificial Clouds

Neuschnee GmbH, an Austrian startup, has invested more than $2.2 million to develop a balloon-shaped chamber that artificially recreates a snow-making cloud. Ice particles injected into a wooden-framed structure propped on steel rods and wrapped in nylon membranes bind to water droplets to make up to 1,000 cubic feet of snowflakes a day, enough to fill a midsize truck. Founder Michael Bacher says ski resorts could use the technology to give runs a natural feel and imagines a future where operators deploy fleets of autonomous artificial clouds. The company is looking for new partnerships to continue development.

Mountain Biking Is the New Skiing

Developing downhill mountain biking as a seasonal complement to winter sports could let the industry maximize the summer season and diversify revenue streams, says Rob McSkimming, a mountain resort development consultant at Select Contracts, a Canada-based tourism consulting firm. Ski areas could invest more in lift infrastructure like bike carriers and repurpose snow making systems into irrigation systems that water biking trails. “Good dirt is like good snow,” Mr McSkimming says.

Dry Slopes

Mr Snow, a German startup, sells a carpetlike faux ski hill that rolls out like a mat and has an arrangement of loops on the surface that reproduces gliding sensations, says Jens Reindl, one of the company’s founders. Mr Reindl says the product is beginner-friendly and could become popular in low-altitude ski resorts near urban centres. The mat, which is available for sale in the U.S., comes in modular 65-by-6.5-foot patches and costs $120 for every 10 square feet.

Doing More With Less

In the future, it may take skiers more twists and turns to reach the bottom of the slope as ski operators seek to have more people use the same patches of snow, says Joe Hession, the majority owner of Mountain Creek Resort in New Jersey. Moving snow blocks to create more jumps, rails, gradual hills and big turns could allow resorts to focus their snow-making capacity on selected segments and do more with less terrain, he says.

Smart Snow-Grooming

Today, snowcat operators drive vehicles equipped with sensors, GPS receivers and tablets to visualize snow depth and distribute fresh snowpack. Mr. Hession sees a day when driverless snowcats wirelessly feed terrain data to automated snow guns that pump out snow on shallow spots more accurately. The ski industry might need to hire more highly skilled and higher paid employees to manage these remote systems, he says.

More Efficient Snow Guns

Temperature increases mean ski resorts will have shrinking windows of cold weather to produce artificial snow, says Brian Fairbank, chairman of the Fairbank Group, which operates three ski resorts in the Northeastern U.S. More efficient, cheaper snow guns that pump out more snow could help make up for this change. One recent innovation is the “Sledgehammer,” a $3,150 snow gun developed by Fairbank that it says converts twice as much water into snow per hour as traditional machines and performs better at higher temperatures for about half the price.

Green-Powered Resorts

Ski resorts could increasingly turn to green infrastructure like solar panels and wind turbines with the goal to operate 100% on renewable power and diminish their own carbon footprints. Wolf Creek Ski Area in Colorado purchases most of its electricity from green sources year-round, including a 25-acre off-site solar farm. Mountain Creek Resort relies on goats to mow the grass on the slopes in the summer rather than use fuel-intensive machinery. More operators are expected to adopt renewable energy in the future, says Adrienne Saia Isaac, the director of marketing and communications at the National Ski Areas Association, an industry group. “We as an industry can’t simply rely on pivoting to summer business as a climate change solution,” she says.

Making Snow When It’s Not Freezing

The Italian startup Nevexn has developed Snow4Ever Thermal, a container-size chiller that freezes water to make up to 1,700 cubic feet of snow a day, almost enough to cover a tennis court with a foot of snow, at above-freezing temperatures. The machine uses solar thermal energy and energy from burning biomass such as wood pellets. The company developed the system with a $2.1 million grant from the European Union and tested it in the Italian Dolomites last year, says Francesco Besana, a co-founder. It plans to commercialize it in the coming years.

From Ski Resorts to Entertainment Resorts

Ziplines, climbing walls, water attractions and mountain roller coasters could be increasingly offered year-round as resorts endeavour to be less reliant on winter sports. This shift could come with a new focus on immersive educational experiences like night walks and light shows that introduce visitors to a mountain’s geological history, says Mr McSkimming of Select Contracts.

Indoor Skiing

Indoor ski areas could make up for seasonal variations and provide access to new markets in urban areas, says Dr Natalie Ooi, the director of tourism enterprise programs at Colorado State University. Big Snow American Dream, the country’s first indoor ski area, opened in New Jersey in 2019 and could provide a blueprint for future investments. It boasts a 4-acre skiable area that operates at minus two degrees celsius and has a 48-metre vertical drop, four lifts and snow guns.

Passes, Passes, Passes

Customers could get much better deals by pre-buying season passes to access more resorts, including internationally, as the industry moves to insulate revenues from weather variations, says David Perry, an executive vice president at Alterra Mountain Co., the ski-resort giant. He anticipates passes will represent 60-70% of Alterra’s ticket sales in the coming years, up from 40-50% today. Resorts could also start selling megapasses valid both in summer and winter, says Auden Schendler, a senior vice president in charge of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co.

 



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Savvy travellers who plan their trips around dining at their destination’s most in-demand restaurants know that securing a reservation at a top Paris eatery isn’t an easy proposition on any given day.

Come the Olympics in July, when the city is flooded with tourists, one would expect the jockey sport to snag a table to be that much more intense. But that’s not necessarily shaping up to be the case. As of mid-May, Parisian insiders such as hotel managers, restaurant owners, and local luxury concierges reported that inquiries at sought-after spots were no higher than usual, foretelling a potential opportunity for visitors looking for a fine-dining experience during the games.

The time to book falls over the next few weeks given that many top spots don’t take reservations until one month before the dining date.

The Michelin-starred Jean Imbert Au Plaza Athenee and Le Relais Plaza, both at Hotel Plaza Athenee and helmed by the renowned French chef Jean Imbert, are two examples.

Francois Delahaye, the COO of the Dorchester Collection, a hospitality company that includes the Plaza Athenee and a second Paris property, Le Meurice, says that his regular guests who are visiting for the games and Parisians who frequent the restaurants know not to call too far in advance of when they want to dine.

Further, he doesn’t foresee reservations being a challenge at either venue or at Le Meurice’s two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Meurice Alain Ducasse.

“Booking for the restaurants won’t be an issue because people are planning meals at the last minute,” Delahaye says. “Also, the people who are in Paris specifically for the Olympics are here for the games, not to eat at restaurants. They’re not the big-spending clientele that we usually get.”

Delahaye doesn’t expect the kinds of peak crowds that descend on fine dining during Fashion Week each spring and autumn, for example, when trying to land a seat at the three eateries is nearly impossible. “People are fighting to get in,” he says. “You need to book through your hotel’s concierge, have an inside source, or be a hotel or restaurant regular.”

Several Paris luxury concierge companies echoed Delahaye’s perspective

Manuel de Croutte, the founder of Exclusive & Private, says that Paris regulars probably aren’t planning a trip when the Olympics transpire—from July 26 to Aug. 11—because they want to avoid the tourist rush. “We’ve gotten some reservation requests from people who’ve heard about us but not nearly as many as we usually get when the very wealthy travellers are here,” he says.

During peak periods like the French Open or Fashion Week, de Croutte says that his job entails making bookings for travellers who don’t have any other way to get into buzzy or Michelin-starred establishments.

“You’re unlikely to get a table at a see-and-be-seen place without knowing someone,” de Croutte says. “No one picks up the phone or answers email.” He says his team has established relationships with managers and owners of many of the hot spots in Paris and often visits them in person to land tables.

Exclusive & Private’s Black Book of Paris restaurant recommendations for Olympic visitors span a broad range, from casual bistros to fine-dining.

Michelin eateries include the three-star Le Gabriel at La Reserve, the two-star Le Clarence near the Champs-Elysee, and the two-star Le Taillevent.

Spots without a Michelin star but equally notable are also on de Croutte’s list: L’ Ami Jean offers traditional and flavourful southwestern French cuisine, Allard is a brasserie from Alain Ducasse, and Laurent serves French food to a fashionable set.

“My favourite neighbourhood for restaurants is Saint Germain de Pres,” de Croutte says. “You’ll find unassuming but chic names with excellent food and a great vibe. You can book with these places directly if you’re here for the Olympics, but don’t wait until the last minute because they will get filled.”

He also cautions that some Paris eateries are asking for nonrefundable prepayments for reservations during the Olympics.

“Be sure you want to go before committing and ask about the refund policy if you are charged,” he says.

Stephanie Boutet-Fajol, the founder of Sacrebleu Paris, says her bespoke travel company charges a lump sum of about US$750 to make all the restaurant bookings for the Olympic period, though the price varies depending on the dates and the number of restaurants that a client requests. “Reservations around the closing ceremony are harder to come by because that’s when more elite travelers are coming to Paris and want the chic restaurants that are always difficult to get a table at,” she says.

Meanwhile, chefs at some Michelin-starred restaurants share that they have tables available during the Olympics and welcome travellers to their establishments.

Thibaut Spiwack, for one, behind the Michelin-starred Anona, serving modern French cuisine, and the culinary consultant for the popular Netflix series Emily in Paris , says that he is open for reservations.

“My team and I look forward to sharing a culinary experience with new clientele that I hope will remain in their memory,” he says.

Spiwack suggests that travellers check out other worthwhile restaurants where he himself dines. For terrific wine, there’s Lava, and for Italian, he likes Epoca where the pastas are “divine.” Janine is the best bistro in town, and Prima wins for a pizza fix, he says.

“You have a lot of restaurants in Paris to pick from,” Spiwack says. “You just need to determine where you want to go, and book as soon as you can.”