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Could Saving Snow Through The Summer Extend The Skiing Season?

Hannah Weiss installing automated temperature sensors on a snow pile at Craftsbury Outdoor Center.
Paul Bierman
The University of Vermont
Hannah Weiss installing automated temperature sensors on a snow pile at Craftsbury Outdoor Center.

In the heat of summer, snow is the last thing you’d expect to find in the Vermont woods. But at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center this summer, that’s exactly what you’ll find — after a bit of digging — that is.

This summer, visitors should expect to come across what appear to be large hills of mulch at the center in Craftsbury. But according to University of Vermont environmental geologist, Paul Bierman, “if you dig through that woodchip layer, it’s still snow underneath.”

Bierman is leading a project to create a more reliable source of snow for Nordic skiers as climate change makes snowfall in ski-friendly Vermont less predictable.

Rather than making new snow for early winter skiing, Bierman’s project intends to save the previous winter’s snow through the summer.

According to Bierman, a similar technique is used in places where Nordic races call for access to early-season snow like in Europe and Quebec.

“Here,” Bierman said, “it’s a first at such low elevation and such low latitude.”

Because the project is uncharted territory, Bierman’s project does not aim to fully cover Craftsbury’s trails.

However, despite the project’s novelty, Bierman says could have both environmental and economic benefits “if we can do this right.”

Manufacturing snow in mid-winter is a more efficient process than making it in November. And opening Nordic ski trails earlier each year would extend the profitable Vermont ski season.

Results from Europe suggest that snow storage through the summer could retain between 70 and 80 percent of the original snow.

For now, however, the piles being stored at Craftsbury are only small test cases.

“Our goal” Bierman said, “is to figure out the best way to insulate [the piles] so that there will be snow, not this fall, but probably [fall 2019].”

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