Everything you ever wanted to know about artificial snow…

If you’ve got a question about artificial snow….we’ve got the answer! Ski area operations director, Thomas Thor Jensen, and snowmaker, Sébastien Piani, told us all about it…

When did Courchevel start producing artificial snow?

Thomas Thor Jensen: «The resort’s interest in artificial snow production started back in 1983, thanks to a group of visionary people who felt it was key to find out more about how it could be implemented. Today, we are one of the most experienced French resorts in terms of artifical snow production (when to produce it, in what quantities…). »


What is a snowmaker?

Sébastien Piani: «A creator of snowflakes! Within the S3V ski lift company there are 67 different professions, but the snowmaker’s role is the most technical because they need to be involved in everything; working with air and water pressure levels that go as high as 70 bars (in comparison, the water pressure for a household tap is just 3 bars). It’s a profession that combines several different technologies, including electrics, pneumatics, IT and electronics.»


How is artificial snow made?

Sébastien: «It’s a very natural process: by mixing water and air together at a very specific temperature, we’re able to produce snow. To be able make good quality artifical snow, it needs to be -3 or -4 degrees. Today we can make 75,000m3 of snow in 24hrs (which is the size of a football pitch with 117m of snow on it!).»


Where does the water come from?

Thomas: «The water comes from La Rosière lake. We are permitted (by prefectoral decree) to pump 750 000 m3 of water from the lake per year. It is our responsability to manage this quota: we fill the Biollay, Praz Juget, Ariondaz lakes, then use the water gradually. It travels through the snow factory pumps, from where it is sent to the top of the slopes to supply the snowmaking machines.»


And what about the electricity?

Thomas: «The cost of our annual energy usage totals more than 3 million euros, taking into account the electricity and the fuel for the piste groomers. We have a contract with EDF which allows us to buy renewable energy only, and we are constantly striving to reduce our electricty consumption. »


Where does it all happen?

Sébastien: «It is all centralised in our automated snow factory, located on the Verdons run; it activates as soon as the correct temperature is reached. We can manage the whole procedure by telephone: opening the valves, pumping water from a lake… It’s a highly efficient operation, housing 65 km of pipes that are connected to the snowmaking machines.»


What is a snowmaking machine?

Sébastien: «In the past they were known as snow cannons, but now we refer to them as snowmakers or snowmaking machines. We have 600 high-pressure snowmakers with individual air compressors: the water and air combine outside the body of the snowmaker. Each of them is fitted with a valve fitted with an electronic device that is in constant communication with the computer, providing information such as the temperature, hydrometry etc.»


Which runs are equipped with artificial snow?

Thomas: «In recent years, there has been a lack of early season snow, and our equipment has been able to alleviate this issue. Here, more than 70% of the runs are equipped with artificial snow (Chenus, Saulire, Sommet des Creux, Biollay, Verdons, Suisses…), and our aim is to increase that figure to 95% within the next 10 years.»


How much does it cost?

Thomas: «We’ve invested heavily in this system in both Courchevel and La Tania: 3 million euros in 2016, 4 million in 2017… It’s fair to say that we are one of the most highly-performing resorts in this field. It costs 2€50 to produce 1m3 of snow, and we produce 1.3 million m3 per year. The total expenditure comprises the amortization, maintenance, operational costs, staff…

It has become a necessity, which also explains the price of the skipass; although some might say it’s expensive, it represents a service that wasn’t required 10 to 15 years ago when there was plenty of natural snow.»

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