SKIING SEASON

Spanish ski resort forced to transport snow by helicopter and truck

Dry winter sees desperate measures adopted at Baqueira-Beret in the Pyrenees

The Spanish ski resort of Baqueira-Beret, in Catalonia, is in desperate need of snow. A lack of precipitation so far this winter has left staff struggling to lay down the white stuff so that skiers and snowboarders can move freely from piste to piste, and between ski lifts, with artificial snow machines unable to keep up with demand. As a result, since the beginning of December, visitors to the resort have seen the curious image of trucks and helicopters moving sacks full of snow from higher to lower altitudes.

A truck carrying snow at the Baqueira-Beret resort.
A truck carrying snow at the Baqueira-Beret resort.infoBaqueira

The lack of snow is not just affecting the Spanish Pyrenees, which is where Baqueira-Beret is located, but also slopes in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Snow-filled trucks and helicopters carrying large sacks have also been spotted in those areas too, so that resort staff can create thin corridors of snow along which skiers and snowboarders can move.

Baqueira-Beret already used this system in 2015, but during the current season the sight of such modes of transport has been a more common occurrence.

The lack of snow is not just affecting the Spanish Pyrenees, but also slopes in Austria, Switzerland and Germany

For now Baqueira-Beret is the only Spanish resort to follow this practice. A spokesperson from the neighboring Boí Taül ski runs says that they have never needed to transport the white stuff. Nor is it used in the other five resorts managed by the regional company FGC. Marta Casanova, a spokesperson from FGC, says that “due to the conditions of our resorts and their morphology, moving snow from one area to put it in another does not benefit us at all. When it snows, the whole resort is covered, and when it doesn’t, the snow that accumulates at higher altitudes is insufficient to be moved down to lower ones.”

According to Casanova, it makes sense for Baqueira to resort to this practice, given the vertical drop of its slopes and their overall length.

Another method used in Austria, Switzerland and Finland during particularly dry winters is known as “snow farming,” which consists of the accumulation and generation of snow that is then stored during the year at low temperatures.

The regional Department for Territory and Sustainability explains that moving snow is a legal practice, provided it is limited to the natural area belonging to the ski resort. Outside this territory, Baqueira is not allowed to collect snow. The Catalan regional government adds that the other requirement is that the resort must request permission to use helicopters. Baqueira has subcontracted Hormaran, a cement firm, to move its snow.

Baqueira has not responded to an EL PAÍS request to explain the procedure for the extraction and transportation of snow. A spokesperson from the company says that it is only used from time to time.

Currently, the resort has 84 kilometers of its 151 kilometers of runs open, but the depth of the snow is between just 10 and 30 centimeters. The Valle de Arán has had practically no snowfall during the months of November and December.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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