Simulated hydrological effects of grooming and snowmaking in a ski resort on the local water balance

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

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<p align=justify>The presence of a ski resort modifies the snow cover at the local scale, due to snow management practices on ski pistes, especially grooming and snowmaking. Snow management exerts 2-fold effects on the local hydrological cycle, through (i) abstraction and transfer of water used for snowmaking, 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, which has seldom been addressed in scientific studies hitherto. Here we introduce a method to compute the hydrological effects of snow management on ski pistes and we apply and illustrate its results for the case study of the La Plagne ski resort in the Northern French Alps. The approach mainly relies on snow cover modelling using the Crocus snow cover driven by SAFRAN reanalysis and climate projections. Model results are evaluated against in-situ hydrological observations and show that the modelling approach, although very simplified for many hydrological processes, provides relevant information and insights in terms of the influence of snow-related processes on water resources. Our study shows a visible impact of grooming, virtually eliminating snowmelt in winter, thus delaying the onset of snowmelt. This results is a lower snowmelt flux during the wintertime, low flow period, on the order of −10 % to −20 %, compensated by higher amounts when snow melts. While about 10 % of the water used for snowmaking is estimated to be lost by evaporation through the ice formation process from the liquid water droplets, we find that, in the case studied, the annual scale alteration of water resources is limited and estimated to be on the order of 1 % to 2 %. This is due to the fact that the amount of water used for snowmaking on ski pistes represents a fraction of 10 % to 20 % of total annual precipitation, that ski pistes cover typically 10 % of the surface area of catchments within which ski resorts are located, and that snowmaking equipment covers, in the case of La Plagne, 40 % of the surface area of ski pistes. Therefore, in this case, snowmaking mainly leads to a moderate shift in snow cover formation and snowmelt processes and plays, for example, a smaller role than the influence of future climate change on mountain hydrology. This study provides an initial overview of the influence of grooming and snowmaking on river flows in a mountain catchment, which can inform future studies on water management and climate change adaptation in areas with ski tourism facilities. This study does not discuss long-term sustainability challenges of ski tourism and other aspects of the local environmental impacts (landscape, biodiversity) of snow management, such as the construction and use of mountain water reservoirs and other earthworks in ski resorts.</p>
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