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Elite Swiss ski resort flies snow to the slopes after mild winter

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 06/01/2023 Henry Samuel
Gstaad © Provided by The Telegraph Gstaad

The elite Swiss ski resort of Gstaad has admitted to being “ecologically insensitive” after ferrying snow to the slopes via helicopter in a failed attempt to keep them open amid mild weather.

The resort, which prides itself on sustainability, is one of many that have struggled to keep pistes open, with temperatures in Switzerland hovering around the 20 degrees celsius mark.

Given the dire situation during the festive high season, Gstaad decided to take emergency action just before Christmas by paying for a helicopter to conduct nine “snow lifts” to runs connecting the Zweisimmen and Saanenmöser resorts, according to local reports.

“It was not possible to solve the problem with snow cannons because the temperatures were too high and the snow cover was too thin,” Matthias In-Albon, director of Bergnahnen Gstaad told Hauptstadt. Snow groomers also proved useless.

“In an emergency, you have to try things out,” he added.

Commentators online were quick to point out the hypocrisy of the move given Gstaad’s claims of respecting “sustainability on the slopes” and “decreasing the difficult-to-avoid emissions resulting from skiing activities”.

“What’s the CO2 footprint of snow transported by helicopter?,” asked Parodik Winiger to the local Swiss municipality, which he said claims it “respects the responsible handling of resources”.

Another, Cyberpmj, quipped that Switzerland could now compete with air-conditioned stadiums in Qatar or the organisation of winter competitions in Saudi Arabia.

Helicopter tactic ‘did not work’

Among the sustainable measures the resorts tout are solar panelling on resort restaurants, using wood from nearby forests to fuel central heating, washing clothes locally and using hydropower.

At any rate, the helicopter tactic “did not work”, the resort chief confessed, because “loading and unloading the snow was too complicated and the amount of snow per flight too small”.

As a result, resort staff took another tack. ”Our innovative employees welded an adapter to attach a tractor's front tipping shovel to a snow groomer,” said Mr In-Albon. “Snow can now be transported from the depots to the slopes.”

Despite this, the connecting route remains closed as the shovels could not reach the spot, he admitted.

Destination Gstaat, the valley’s tourist office, told the Telegraph: “The current snow shortage is an immense challenge for us.

“In this exceptional weather situation, snow was transported on this one occasion by helicopter from a nearby snow depot to guarantee the slope connection between Zweisimmen and the Saanenland,” it said.

“This emergency measure was ecologically insensitive. It also proved to be unsuitable from a technical point of view. The transports by helicopter were therefore immediately stopped. No further flights are planned.”

‘Sounds stupid to transport snow’

This is not the first time helicopters have been used to bring snow to slopes in Europe.

In 2020, some 100 helicopter snow lifts were conducted to ensure that the renowned Labuerhorn in Wengen could take place during the Youth Olympic Games, in Lausanne. Each flight carried just two cubic metres of snow.

“Of course it sounds incredibly stupid to transport snow with a helicopter. But that was the only way we could save the slalom and combined races. The effort was absolutely justified,” Urs Näpflin of the local International Ski Federation Alpine World Cup Organising Committee said at the time.

Over in France that same year, the Luchon-Superbagnères resort in the Pyrenees arranged for around 50 tonnes of snow to be dropped on its slopes. Taken from higher mountains, the snow was dumped on slopes for beginners and children.

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