The calendar this year has presented the possibility of linking a macro-bridge of the Constitution and the low temperatures have contributed to setting the stage for the snow season to open without hesitation. The ski resorts are considering good omens, but they cannot escape the ecological spotlight due to the environmental impact of their activity and the misgivings that it generates, in the midst of a drought, using water to make artificial snow. The sector defends that its commitment to sustainability is firm and that, beyond a matter of image or convictions, interest now revolves around the urgent need to contain the energy bill. “In a normal year, energy costs amount to between 1.5 and 2 million euros, this season it could easily double,” analyzes Xavi Ubeira, commercial director of Baqueira Beret, in the Lleida Pyrenees. The Generalitat de Catalunya, which controls six ski centers in the Pyrenees through Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat (FGC), indicates that it has imposed the concept of “dynamic stations”, which entails implementing “variable and adapted measures” for each facility to save energy consumption.
The snow campaign kicks off with an invitation to lock past restrictions in the closet, such as mandatory masks, safety distance and capacity control, but presents the challenge of knowing how to contain the energy bill. The acceleration of supply costs sets off accounting alarms at ski resorts, facilities that have their survival tied to electricity and that depend on the contribution of fuels such as diesel. Without electrical power, the ski lifts that transport skiers to the peaks falter and the cannons that make artificial snow, a basic element for compacting the slopes white, fail. Baqueira Beret, the Spanish station with the highest user traffic, more than a million passes last year, has come to study the installation of a windmill to be able to self-generate part of the electricity it needs. The option is discarded at the moment due to the “visual impact” that a wind turbine entails.
In Andorra, Grandvalira has built a hydroelectric power station with the capacity to supply between 3 and 5% of the consumption of the Pas de la Casa, Grau Roig and Encamp sectors. The complex points out that the commitment, together with the deployment of photovoltaic panels, allows it to self-generate a significant amount of the volume of energy consumed by its stations.
In Catalonia, Baqueira has a model similar to the Masella station, both are privately owned, nothing to do with the group of six facilities that depend on the public umbrella of FGC: La Molina, Vallter 2000, Vall de Núria, Port Ainé, Boí Taull and Espot. Each station does its numbers, but the common strategy goes through containment. “The key is to be efficient,” says Xavi Ubeira. The Valle de Aran station fine-tunes its protocols to set the cannons to fire artificial snow “when the cost of electricity is at the lowest level.” A Masella spokesman spoke along the same lines: “we must make the most of the cold windows to produce snow at low cost.” He adds that the strategy is not new. “We have been applying energy saving measures for several seasons now, but this year we redoubled our efforts.”
Masella tries to apply a transversal shock plan. It cuts the calendar of skiable nights to reduce the load on lighting and also lowers the temperature of its closed facilities. “It does not affect the user, because it is already equipped to withstand the cold,” they point out from the station. Ferrocarrils emphasizes that its stations have a monitoring system that allows knowing in real time what volume of users there is on each track and each lift, which allows restricting the operation of the chairlifts in response to specific demand. Masella and Baqueira also reveal that, on days with less influx, the activity of the ski lifts is limited and those where there is a parallel line stop to be able to climb to the summit. Xavi Ubeira illustrates this with figures: “The difference of having a ski lift working at a speed of 4 meters per second, instead of 5 meters per second, implies a 20% cut in energy consumption”.
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The ski sector tries to stay away from debates that point to a supposedly harmful role of the resorts and their infrastructures for the environment. FGC points out that its stations employ 3,000 people. Recently, groups such as the platform opposed to Catalonia organizing the 2030 Winter Games have tried to stir up the controversy by denouncing that despite the drought alert that affects 6.7 million inhabitants, which represents 80% of the population In Catalonia, the ski resorts of the Pyrenees “waste” water to produce artificial snow. “Supporting this argument makes no sense and shows a total lack of knowledge,” says Joaquim Alsina, president of the Association of Mountain Resorts. He alleges that the stations “have their own ponds to store the water they use, they do not consume water from the supply network.” The commercial director of Baqueira Beret confirms this: “In order to function we need water, which is why we make a very important effort to retain meltwater.” And he points out that Baqueira has three ponds that total almost 600,000 cubic meters. He also indicates that “when the snow melts it becomes water for the mountain again.”
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