The below article was published in 2007. We had just come of the worst season on record but since that time we have had some stunners. The question at the time was whether we were experiencing the effects of global warming or just another bad season like in ‘54, ‘59, ‘69, ‘73 or ‘82? Each I am told comparable to 2006. 1973 was so bad that under-employed Mt Buller ski instructors were tasked with clearing new ski runs, hence “Cut 73”, everyone's favorite shortcut to Chamois.
Since 2007 a lot has changed in the Global Warming discourse. For one, we now almost exclusively refer to it as “Climate Change”. For me, I see it as a reality, like aging or inflation. It just is - the world is getting a little more erratic every day. My hope is that erratic weather dominates warm weather. My hope is that for a long time to come the Australian snow fields as with all snow fields continue to receive the odd “Snow-mageddon” or “Blizzard of Oz” or “Shit loads of Snow”. My fear is that ecosystem collapse leads to mass migration, famine, pandemics and economic collapse. All phenomena that interfere with our favorite past time, usually enjoyed during prosperous times - skiing.
The article below focuses on damning trends and highlights many of the investments made by Australia’s ski resorts. All of which are pretty everyday all over the world. But what this article made me think about was the skier. We all know what the ski resorts are doing to make skiing more consistent. But what are you doing, as a skier, in response to global warming? Are you skiing more now because next year you’ll be a year older on a shallower snow pack? Are you skiing less because it is depressing to be engaged in a sport on a downward slope? Are you skiing in different locations at different times of years on different equipment?
Next year we hope to tell the story of the tips and tricks - how to hack global warming. In the meantime, please enjoy our story from 2007 and reflect on how many amazing ski days you’ve had since 2007...there’s been a few.
A terminal illness for the Australian snowfields
Two years ago Mellissa Wood wrote a story for Chillfactor on global warming and the consequences it may have for skiing in Australia. Since that time the issue has become an intensely debated subject and it seems only right-wing tabloid columnists and our coal industry-driven Prime Minister are sceptical about the far reaching economic and environmental damage global warming is causing. The CSIRO and Australian of the Year Tim Flannery are among the many eminent scientists who say Australia must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60%, a target the PM labels as crazy, by 2050 or suffer the consequences. Given all that, we thought it’d be a good time for Melissa to revisit heer story and report on how the Australian ski resorts are responding to what is their greatest threat to survival.
Australian ski resorts are going to be frontline victims of global warming. It’s not a matter of if anymore, it’s a matter of when. But the resorts aren’t planning on shutting up shop and everyone going home. They are making plans to ensure their viability for many years to come. Snowmaking is critical, but so is the development of the resorts into year round holiday destinations. That is the future ski resort in Australia. While last year’s ski season was one of the worst on record, resorts will tell you that a single season can’t be put down to climate change and its effects are not yet upon us.
spring snow depth had declined by 40% since 1962.
Some scientists disagree. New research by the former Bureau of Meteorology professor Nevile Nichollis, now with Monash University, found that in one area in the NSW Snowy Mountains, spring snow depth had declined by 40% since 1962. But 2006 may be a prototype of what we can expect before too long. A 2003 CSIRO report found that the resorts could lose a quarter of their snow by 2020 and by 2050 maximum snow depths could shrink by up to 90% and the total area covered by snow by 85%. CSIRO scientist and co-author of the alpine study, Kevin Hennessy, said there had been no change in the forecast since that initial report, for better or worse.
“The advice we gave to the industry four years ago is still current and that effectively was that we’ll be looking at a decline in natural snow cover in the next 20 years or so and there would be a need to increase their snowmaking capacity and the industry has taken that on board,” he said.
Hennessy is one of Australia’s representatives on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in April released a damning report on global warming. Written by 2500 of the world’s leading climate experts, the reports says it will take more than 30 years for any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to have an impact on global warming, making adaptation to change the only immediately available response.
“The solution, in terms of exposed industries has to include adaptation and that’s what the most recent ICPP report is about.” Hennessy said.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions alone has delayed benefits, in that it helps to avoid some of the faster rates of warming and the bigger impacts but it has to be matched by adaptation, which has immediate benefits for dealing with the lower rates of global warming.”
Even before the UN report, Australian resorts recognised that adaptation was the only solution for survival and that means millions more dollars invested into snow-making with Thredbo and Falls Creek leading the way. Falls Creek has the largest snowmaking system in Victoria, spread over 110 hectares, and can also produce 450,000 cubic metres, which is enough to cover the MCG 25 metres deep. Thredbo switched to automated snowmaking equipment last season which meant a huge increase in man made snow, with around 350,000 cubic metres produced.
There is no risk of skiing on yellow snow
“There was a 42% increase in snow production due to automation,” said Thredbo Mountain Manager Werner Siegenthaler.
“In 2007, with full automation, we’re aiming to make around 450,000 cubic metres of snow.”
Before snowmaking skiers were only able to ski top to bottom at Thredbo about 15 days a year, now that’s more like 100.” Mount Buller and Mount Hotham, however, have embarked on a world-first project that will give new meaning to the term skiing “on piste”. From this season the resorts will recycle their waste water, including human waste, into snow.
There is no risk of skiing on yellow snow - the water is treated to Class A level which is clean enough to wash leafy vegetables, like lettuce, before eating, although it won’t be used as drinking water. As well as a massive boost for their snowmaking capabilities, the water will also be used for other water-saving initiatives at the resorts, such as toilet flushing. Mount Hotham spokesperson Jessica Rose said feedback had been positive.
“We didn’t know what the reaction would be like...there’s been the odd joke about sewerage being turned into snow but because it’s treated to such a high standard and falls on the ground and is mixed in with natural snow and also potable water out of the system, it’s not really an issue.
there are no sunshine machines in the Whitsunday islands, but they have machines to make snow.
“These days, recycling is the way of the future and people are coming around to seeing that anyway.
“Most people who are skiing are just pleased we’re coming up with technology that will enhance their ability to ski.” She said last season was proof that no Australian resort could survive without snowmaking.
“Last year it was the worst snow season on record, really. The season was on man-made snow the whole time. We got some natural snow but if we hadn’t of been able to make snow then the resort would have been closed for most of the winter, whereas it was open for the entire 17 weeks.
“Even though we had less runs open, we were still able to provide a quality product and that the technology gives ski enthusiasts an almost guaranteed good time on the slopes; there are no sunshine machines in the Whitsunday islands, but they have machines to make snow.
But there’s also a certain irony that the resorts are contributing to climate change by doing something that consumes a massive amount of electricity. At the end of the day, snowmaking will only get the resorts so far. Resorts must become year round destinations to grow and remain profitable if the climate changes. They see a future where they are meccas for mountain bike riding, hiking, mountain climbing as well as special events such as conferences and festivals.
Thredbo is already well established with its extensive facilities including golf course and bobsled track, while its music festivals attract as many people on a weekend to the village as during the peak ski season. Hotham has got planning approval for a controversial $500 million village redevelopment that involves moving the Great Alpine Road. It will result in a new village centre with retail, entertainment and specialty services aimed at year-round tourism.
Buller has become a haven for mountain bikers while they are also banking on bringing tourists to town with the Buller beer fest. Falls Creek is setting itself up as “The Arts Mountain” and this year the resort will hold its fourth annual Film Fest @ Falls festival, with film-makers competing for $33,000 in prizes. It is also trying to attract fly-fishing enthusiasts, bike riders, bush-walker and promotes itself as a national high altitude training centre, attracting the likes of Australia’s best middle distance runner, Craig Mottram.
“Falls Creek is seeking to become a genuine all-season tourist destination with the offer of a cooler climate to escape the summer heat.” said Maureen Gearon, of the Falls Creek Management Board.
Perisher doesn’t have the natural beauty of Falls or Thredbo, but that hasn’t stopped investors. The new village centre, built on the existing car-park, will have shops, restaurants, bars, recreation facilities and accommodation and depending on negotiations and approval by the NSW Government, building may start as soon as next year. Perisher Blue CEO Peter Brulisauer said climate change wasn’t behind the plans, but was now a huge incentive. “Anyone who knows Perisher knows that it has largely been a winter-focused resort and that it just doesn’t have the facilities that lend itself to summer operation,” he said.
“Going back 15-20 years that was recognised and there has been a master plan on how the village should be developed. “That was prior to climate change really becoming an issue but it’s now certainly part of our strategy for addressing what are the predicted effects of climate change. “One of those strategies is making our snowmaking system more efficient and expanding it and the other is evolving to four-season operations.”