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New artificial snowmaking technology could offer a lifeline to struggling ski resorts (CNN, 22-Jan-2024)

Nestled in the Pyrenees mountains, La Molina is Spain’s oldest ski resort. It boasts the biggest superpipe in the Pyrenees and its slopes have hosted high-profile events, from the Alpine Skiing World Cup to the Snowboard World Championships. But La Molina now faces an existential threat: A dearth of snow.

ICMAB-CSIC
ICMAB-CSIC
29 January 2024

As global temperatures rise, the resort, like many around the world, is being forced to rely increasingly on artificial snow.

But fake snow comes at a cost. It is both water and energy intensive — a difficult combination anywhere but especially in a country grappling with a prolonged and severe drought fueled by climate change.

That’s why La Molina will spend the next three years testing a new snowmaking technique that promises to be far less resource intensive, as well as being able to produce snow at warmer temperatures — increasingly important as some resorts are approaching temperatures too warm to make even fake snow viable.

Called the Snow Laboratory, and run by the Barcelona Institute of Materials Science (ICMAB-CSIC) and FGC Turisme, which manages public ski slopes, the project will make fake snow by adding a mineral to the water going into snow guns, the machines that pump out water and air at high pressure to create snow.

The idea is to mimic processes that happen in the clouds, said Albert Verdaguer, the scientist at ICMAB-CSIC who has been leading the project.

Ice is formed in the atmosphere from water droplets in clouds by a process called “ice nucleation.” Pure water droplets can remain unfrozen in clouds at temperatures as low as minus 38 degrees Celsius. But ice nucleation can happen at much higher temperatures when the water droplets interact with particles in the atmosphere, such as aerosols or dust, triggering them to freeze.

A couple of years ago, Verdaguer read a research paper which found that one mineral — feldspar — was particularly efficient at this process and could trigger the freezing of water droplets at temperatures close to zero degrees.

It set off a lightbulb: What if feldspar could help make snowmaking more efficient? “We thought, why don’t we take advantage of that?” he told CNN.

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