Baqueira Beret, nestled in the majestic Spanish Pyrenees, is famous for its impeccable ski runs and picturesque surroundings. But behind this winter landscape lies advanced technology and dedicated efforts to ensure exceptional snow quality.
One of the keys to Baqueira Beret’s success lies in its snow production process. The teams work with remarkable professionalism and precision, using advanced monitoring systems to assess weather conditions and adjust snow production accordingly. Here’s a closer look at the magic of the night…
A skier’s paradise supported by technology
Baqueira Beret’s proximity to the Atlantic plays a crucial role in its climate. This Atlantic influence brings a certain amount of humidity and precipitation that contributes to the formation of dense, compact snow, ideal for winter sports.
Snow work in Baqueira Beret began in the 1990s.” The 1989-1990 season was particularly dry with no significant rainfall. Faced with this situation, management quickly understood the need to intervene to save the season. It was in 1990 that we took our first steps with snow. Over the past three decades, we have seen three major technological developments.
Initially, we used huge snow cannons, real dinosaurs of technology, projecting water in the air, a method leading to a significant energy loss. The second generation marked a significant advance, operating with systems of tiny openings for water and air. This innovation allowed to spray fine droplets of water, accelerated by a jet of air, in order to minimize the size of the drops for faster crystallization, thus reducing water loss and the formation of superfluous ice on the tracks.
The third and current stage of this evolution concerns modern guns, designed to produce micro-outtes. In this system, the air jet is perfectly synchronized with each drop of water, thus optimizing the use of water and energy. We are now in the middle of the third generation of snow cannons,” explains Bertran Montoya of the Baqueira Beret Mountain Department.
New generation snow cannons: water saving and sustainability
The Baqueira Beret ski area is equipped with 775 snow cannons, strategically distributed throughout the territory. We have two types of guns: high pressure and low pressure, each playing a key role in the efficient and responsible production of snow. Recently, we replaced 50 guns with the latest models,” says Montoya.
These guns are designed to use minimal water while maximizing production efficiency. The objective is to maximize production at marginal temperature, in less time and more simultaneously. This technological progress contributes not only to better snow quality, but also to more sustainable management of water resources.
“Starting in mid-November, we begin a meticulous process of observing temperatures and humidity, on the basis of which we make our forecasts. Our objective is to prepare the opening of the station around November 25. To do this, we analyze in detail all available weather data, in order to make reliable projections and ensure a punctual opening of the station.
Our strategy is based on consistent production capacity. We seek to maximize the exploitation of the coldest hours to produce an optimal volume of snow. In the early stages of our development, our capacity was limited. However, now we have the ability to cover the entire ski area. For example, at 1 a.m., if the temperature drops to -8°C and the conditions are ideal for producing high-quality snow, we have the ability to activate all snow cannons. This flexibility applies to all areas of our domain,” explains Bertran Montoya.
Water as a source of life: a priority for sustainable development
The Baqueira Beret resort is committed to minimizing its ecological footprint, ensuring that the use of water for snow production does not adversely affect local ecosystems. It also insists that no river sampling is carried out for snow production.
“In Baqueira Beret, the production of cultivated snow does not consist of drawing water directly from streams. We use water tanks specially dedicated to making snow that replenish each year. The 190,000 m3 of water on Beret is replenished annually with meltwater and runoff. After the season, when the snow melts, we collect this water and store it in our pools. This process is autonomous and does not involve any removal from streams or other natural sources,” insists Bertran Montoya.
Innovation and expertise: the secrets of quality damage
The main objective of Baqueira Beret is to groom 70% of its ski area daily, a major challenge. To optimize their use, the 35 groomers of the station work in two teams: one from 17h to 1h in the morning and the other from 1h in the morning to 9h. The Baqueira fleet consists of 18 vehicles (9 of which are equipped with a winch). During the day, one or two of them are usually active.
“To achieve this, we are working to strengthen our team of groomers. It is a challenge in itself to maintain professional continuity for people working only 4 to 5 months a year, whether within the station or in related sectors such as large machinery or forestry. This policy aims to maximize the quality of our trails. However, with a turnover of 8 people, retaining our staff remains a challenge.”
Accurate daily analysis of snow cover
In addition to its 18 grooming machines, the resort has specific groomers for the Snow Park and cross-country ski slopes. Each evening, these 18 machines map the entire station, making it possible to monitor snow thickness in real time from the computer of the head of the Mountain pole. “Our damage plan is focused on improving connections across the station. Of our 2273 hectares of land, and our 114 slopes, 431 hectares are regularly groomed. The optimized use of crop snow is made possible thanks to a GPS program integrated into all our machines, which measures snow thickness in real time.
This year, we innovated by acquiring a drone matrix 300, equipped with a lidar to carry out summer topographic surveys, thus replacing the expensive aerial overflights. This data is then integrated into our GPS system. This makes us autonomous: in case of work or breakdowns, we can update the information and the groomer then has an updated view of the field 100%. A colour system facilitates the planning of night work, optimizing travel because we know exactly where to pick up the snow. Since 2019, this technology has helped us save fuel and time, and makes planning work much more efficient. The machines communicate with each other, ensuring constant updating in real time. We estimate that we have saved more than 8% on fuel,” reveals Bertran Montoya.
A 100% Pyrenean know-how
“The groomers of the Pyrenees are generally very versatile. Indeed, they are daily confronted with very demanding weather conditions. In the Pyrenees, one-metre snowfall is rare and temperature fluctuations are frequent. As a result, our teams have to master perfectly the work of the snow crop. In addition, with changing winds moving the snow, it is crucial to know how to compact and put it back in place. These challenges require a high level of technical competence, allowing them to operate efficiently even with little snow.”
Beyond these daily missions, every year, a considerable amount of work is done on the slopes in summer with ground movements. “The goal is to steer them as far north as possible to better conserve snow. We also promote the growth of grass, creating a natural carpet conducive to the maintenance of snow. The absence of pebbles is essential to guarantee a safe and pleasant skiing experience. This know-how is the result of a combination of many skills and techniques.”
A drone is used during the summer to identify and map all the tracks of the station and inform the groomers. «Thanks to its infrared camera, it facilitates maintenance tasks, such as chairlift line inspection and bearing temperature verification, thus eliminating the need for a technician on site», adds Bertran Montoya.
The resort of Baqueira Beret is positioned as a leader in the production of sustainable snow, combining advanced technology and respect for the environment. This harmony between innovation and sustainability guarantees not only exceptional ski experiences for visitors, but also a promising future for skiing in the Spanish Pyrenees.
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