29 Nov 2022
 | 29 Nov 2022

Quantifying the hydrological disturbances induced by snow grooming and snowmaking in ski resorts: a case study in the French Alps

Samuel Morin, Hugues François, Marion Réveillet, Eric Sauquet, Louise Crochemore, Flora Branger, Etiene Leblois, and Marie Dumont

Abstract. The presence of a ski resort modifies the snow cover at the local scale, due to snow management practices on ski slopes, especially grooming and snowmaking, which affect the quantity and physical behavior of the snowpack. Snow management exerts two-fold disturbances to the local hydrological cycle, through (i) uptake of water used for snowmaking, either directly after uptake or following temporary storage and (ii) changes in water runoff due to added snow mass through snowmaking and/or delayed melting of the snowpack due to snow grooming. This induces a local pressure on water resources that can be substantial in places and fuels controversies regarding the environmental impact of ski resorts. However, no scientific study to date has quantified the quantitative and qualitative disruption of the local hydrological cycle downstream, concerning both the modification of the local seasonality of the flows (e.g. low water periods) and possible modifications of the volume of water returned. Here we describe results from a case study quantifying the various components of the water budget of a small catchment (several km2), partly covered by a ski resort, in the Northern French Alps. Snow cover simulations, including the timing and amount of snowmelt, were performed using the Crocus snow cover model driven by the SAFRAN reanalysis and future climate scenarios, with and without accounting for grooming and snowmaking. Our study demonstrates a visible impact of snow grooming, through the quasi-suppression of winter snowmelt, leading to delayed snowmelt onset. Snowmaking leads to additional snowmelt amount, of the order of a few percent at the scale of the catchment, scaling with the fraction of the catchment covered by ski pistes, and the fraction of the ski pistes equipped with snowmaking. Under the situation of the case studied, there is no substantial further water loss due to snowmaking after the snow production itself, which induces about 10 % of evaporative loss of water used for snowmaking, related to the snow production process. Snowmaking mainly leads to a moderate shift in snow cover formation and snowmelt processes, to a smaller degree than the influence of future climate change on mountain hydrology. This study provides quantitative estimates of the impact of grooming and snowmaking on the hydrological regime of mountain catchments interesected by ski resorts, which can inform further studies addressing water management and climate change adaptation in mountain regions harbouring ski tourism infrastructure.

Samuel Morin et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1186', Anonymous Referee #1, 03 Dec 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1186', Anonymous Referee #2, 25 Feb 2023
  • RC3: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-1186', Anonymous Referee #3, 27 Feb 2023

Samuel Morin et al.

Samuel Morin et al.


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Short summary
Ski resorts are a key socio-economic asset of several mountain areass. Grooming and snowmaking are routinely used to manage the snow cover on ski pistes, but despite vivid debate, little is known about their impact on water resources downstreams. This study quantifies, for the pilot ski resort La Plagne in the French Alps, the impact of grooming and snowmaking on downstream river flow. Hydrological impacts are mostly apparent at the seasonal scale but rather neutral on the annual scale.