VIDEO. Networked snow groomers in ski areas reduce energy consumption and the production of artificial snow

The snow groomer of tomorrow is networked or not. Fuel saving, energy saving, resource optimization, technology is at the service of ski resorts to measure snow cover in real time and avoid the overproduction of artificial snow. Example in Courchevel, in Savoy.

The traditional snow groomer brooms are regulated at night in the ski area like sheet music. There was no question for the drivers to deviate from the lane, the rating was meticulously compiled using GPS.

In Courchevel, the 21 machines were equipped with software for measuring the snow cover called Snowsat, which is able to evaluate the amount of snow spread over 2,600 square meters with an accuracy of three centimeters. The system therefore defines in real time the cartography of the domain and the areas to be filled. No more unnecessary round trips, the snow groomers cover fewer distances and therefore consume less fuel.

“I think since we started with this system in 2017 we’ve been able to save an average of 10% fuel per season.”says Romain Hazucka, manager of the snow and work center on the slopes of the Savoy resort.

“To prepare 10 acres, machines used to travel 30 acres, from their garage slot to the other end of the property, and so on.”completes Didier Bic, director of Snowsat. “Today the machines cover between one and a half and two times the groomed area (between 15 and 20 hectares), so we saved just as much fuel.”emphasizes the manager of the Isère company, who invented this system almost 20 years ago.

And while the technology was hardly able to establish itself in the fleets of the ski resorts at the time, it is now the market leader and today equips more than 2,000 snow groomers worldwide, from the Alpine arc to China to North America. The Isère company was 55% taken over by Kässbohrer, a German group, in 2012.

“In the beginning we had a lot of trouble explaining what use the system could have, both for measuring snow depth and for fleet management”remembers Didier Bic. “We are a trade in traditions and local products… But we showed some numbers and started from the years 2008-2010 when the system became a bit more widespread in the resorts. We started with Alpe d’Huez, which is a forerunner was suffering from the band-aids, but played the game of developing this system”.

Because measuring the snow cover has other advantages. It makes it possible to reduce the use of the increasingly notorious snow cannons.

“With the map we can see where we need snow and therefore launch a single snow cannon rather than the whole line, reducing our water consumption.”says Romain Hazucka.

The programming of the preparation via GPS also allows the machines not to cut into the layer of earth under the layer of powder, thus preserving the quality of the snow.

Domaines Skiables de France wishes to generalize and recommends the use of this technology “Measure snow depths to adjust production precisely to demand”in his Energy Sobriety Charter published in autumn 2022.

However, the Snowsat system is not available for every station. Courchevel spent a million euros to equip its park with snow groomers.

“It’s a significant price, such a GPS with centimeter accuracy, it’s between 20,000 and 30,000 euros.”says Didier Bic. “So it’s true that it’s not achievable for small budgets. Despite this, we have developed financial solutions that allow you to have a subscription, which allows small broadcasters to access this system.”

For Romain Hazucka, the future of resorts will inevitably go through this optimization of care. For him, cartography is also his strength in guiding Courchevel in the summer maintenance work on the area. “It’s not necessarily just earthworks, it can be crushing and stone removal to use less snow and less time later in the season.”

At a time when global warming and a lack of snow are challenging energy-intensive practices, ski resorts understood they had to make a change to survive and avoid disenchantment. Technology should enable them to keep learning, to do more with less.

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