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Saving Snow: Blankets Combat Global Warming

New technology may help resorts stave off the effects of global warming.
posted: 12/19/2008

Last summer, three Colorado ski resorts—Aspen, Vail, and Telluride—signed on to test a new product that claims to slow the process of snow melting. The two-layer composite snow blanket, dubbed the Ice-Protector Optiforce, is made from a white polyester/polypropylene blend that comes in 180-foot-long rolls and works by absorbing UV radiation and reducing heat penetration.

It was first used in 2005 at the summit of Switzerland’s 9,715-foot Mount Gemsstock, where the Gurschen Glacier has receded 65 feet over the past 15 years. The resort found that the blanket preserved 80 percent of the snowpack. Other European resorts tried it, followed by the Colorado resorts. “It appears to be working,” says Rich Burkley, Aspen Skiing Company’s vice president of mountain operations. “We think more than 70 percent of the snow we covered with it will remain. Our pile started at 30 feet deep and by the end of summer it was still about 25 feet deep.”

Telluride used the blanket at snow-challenged Bushwhacker below Lift Nine, and Vail did a test block at Golden Peak. While the resorts haven’t committed to using the product full-time, it has raised interest. “It presents some options with regards to energy reduction in snowmaking,” says Burkley. “Plus, it gives us the ability to open park features earlier.” Here’s hoping for powder days in July.


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