Creating a weather service to improve ski resort snow management

Faced with natural variability in snowfall exacerbated by the effects of climate change, improving snow performance is a major challenge for ski resorts. To meet this challenge, the European PROSNOW project led by Météo-France aims to provide resort managers with a unique decision-making support tool that simulates snow levels on ski runs using meteorological predictions for the whole season. Due to its expertise in the socioeconomics of ski resorts, Irstea is one of the project's key partners.

Since the snowless winters of the late 1980s, resort managers have learned to manage the variability of the snowpack. Traditional solutions include packing the ski runs to stabilize the snow and producing artificial snow. The socioeconomic operation of ski resorts (ski lifts, recruitment of seasonal staff, accommodation, etc.) depends closely on this snow management.

Led by 13 European partners 1 (leading snow and mountain, snow management service suppliers), the PROSNOW project 2 aims to help resort managers better anticipate meteorological conditions (snowfall, favorable conditions for snowmaking, etc.) and adapt to them in real time. The ultimate aim? To reduce the economic cost and environmental impact of current forecasting limitations, which can, for example, lead to an overproduction of snow.

Simulating snowfall for a few days ahead or to the end of the season

With help from eight pilot stations in the Alps (France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany), the project partners are currently developing a snow management tool that uses snow depth simulations for ski runs based on meteorological forecasting and locally gathered measurements.

Prosnow demonstration interface
Prototype of the PROSNOW simulator currently being developed by Irstea (showing a comparison of snow cover on the Les Saisies resort runs using two different management strategies).

"One of the functions of PROSNOW will be to predict the condition of the snowpack for several days to several months in relation to various snow management choices (packed natural snow, production - or not - of artificial snow, how much snow is produced, etc.). Using an interactive map representing runs in the skiable area, users will be able to directly simulate and visualize the impact of these different strategies on the evolution of the snowpack, from D+3 to D+30 for example, and compare the results before choosing which action to take," explains Hugues François, engineer at the Mountain Ecosystems and Society Laboratory (LESSEM) and project coordinator for Irstea. The tool will not only be useful for resort managers, but can also be used by other stakeholders affected by snow cover, and could even serve as potential accreditation for responsible snow management in ski resorts.

Irstea, an interface between scientific tools and user needs

With over 25 years of experience in the socioeconomic study of ski resorts (management, regional integration, etc.), Irstea is significantly involved in the PROSNOW project Researchers from the LESSEM unit (ASTRRE 3 and Regional Information System teams) are responsible for analyzing end user requirements and any added value the service will provide to resorts. "Using local work groups set up at each pilot resort, we studied the information needs expressed by users as well as operational costs linked to snowpack management for the resorts. These two studies allowed us to identify the specifications and functions that the future PROSNOW tool should provide. These have been validated by the European consortium, so we are now working on integrating them as part of an initial prototype for the tool," specifies François. Other Irstea researchers are also working on the project, such as the specialists in risk and decision-making in uncertain situations from the ETNA laboratory who are working on incorporating inherent uncertainties into the forecasting models used by the tool.

The PROSNOW service should be operational by the end of the project, in 2020. In addition to the partner resorts who will test it to manage their skiable areas, the tool will be distributed to resorts across Europe, to be integrated into existing snow management services.

  • Consult the website of the PROSNOW project

For more information

1- TEC Conseil; Irstea Grenoble; SLF Davos (Switzerland); University of Innsbruck (Austria); University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (Austria); EURAC Bolzano (Italy); JR (Austria);, TechnoAlpin; SNOWSAT; CGX AERO; Dianeige; AlpSolut. Project leader: Météo-France.
2- The PROSNOW project, Provision of a prediction system allowing for management and optimization of snow in Alpine ski resorts (2017-2020), was selected following the "Greener Economy" Horizon 2020 call for projects from the European Commission, linked to the Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials societal challenge.
3- Socio-ecosystemic approaches to regions, hazards and resources