Picture of a skier on snowy trail winding under large green trees and now snow on the ground.

The urgent efforts to save winter in the Alps

The region's economy and culture revolve around winter. As climate warms there’s a scramble to preserve snow and ice

At Davos, Switzerland, in late October, a skier navigates a crosscountry trail made of artificial snow produced the previous winter. It was stored over the summer in a 20-foot mound under a 16-inch layer of sawdust, then spread on the trail for the new season.

Surrounded by rugged peaks so high they tear clouds apart, the tractor-size groomer backs over a 40-foot-tall mound of compacted snow, unrolling a bolt of white fabric. On top of the mound, six workers are stitching fabric panels together with a handheld, heavy-duty sewing machine. It’s June at Kitzsteinhorn in Austria, one of the highest and coldest ski areas in the Alps, and meltwater is gushing into ravines on the flanks of the mountain. But up on the glacier, the slope maintenance crew is preparing for the next season.

Even at 10,000 feet, counting on natural snow has become too risky. So the team led by technical manager Günther Brennsteiner is taking out insurance. They’ve spent a month plowing the last of this season’s snow into eight multistory mounds, of which the largest are bigger than football fields. They’re now spending another month covering the mounds with fabric to insulate them over the summer. When the new season begins, if it’s too warm for fresh snow to fall—or even for artificial snow to be made—dump trucks and groomers will spread old snow on the slopes.

Figuring out how to stockpile snow at this scale hasn’t been easy, says one of the workers, Hannes Posch. Before the crew started stitching the panels together, wind gusts sometimes ripped them apart, uncovering the mounds. Other times, the fabric froze solid into the snow.

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