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Snow worries: Australia’s ski resorts turn to snowmakers with slopes bare ahead of winter
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Snow worries: Australia’s ski resorts turn to snowmakers with slopes bare ahead of winter

With winter just around the corner, temperatures are plunging but Australia’s ski slopes are looking bare, prompting fears that the country’s best snow spots are set for an underwhelming peak season.

The weather service WeatherZone has predicted there will be no significant snowfalls for Australia’s five major downhill ski resorts – all in New South Wales and Victoria – before the ski season kicks off on the King’s Birthday long weekend in June.

The WeatherZone meteorologist Felix Levesque said the lack of snow so far this year was caused by blocking highs over the Great Australian Bight.

“The early stage of the ski season is not looking great,” Levesque said, but added he was unsure if blocking highs would persist into the latter part of the season.

The blocking highs, which are strong high pressure systems that form further south than usual, are also responsible for the wet weather felt in south-east Australia over the last few months.

Despite the forecast, Australia’s ski resorts are insistent that a bumper season is ahead.

Nathan Butterworth, the vice-president and general manager of the Perisher ski resort in NSW’s Perisher Valley, said early snow levels were not indicative of the season ahead.

“This is my 22nd winter working in the snow industry and some of the best seasons have begun with low snowfall.”

Butterworth said Perisher resort had extensive snowmaking infrastructure which lessened their reliance on natural snowfall.

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Snow is made by blasting a mixture of chilled mountain water and compressed air through a snow gun. The blocking highs have created ideal conditions – clear, cold nights with low humidity – for snow to be produced.

“We are firing our snowguns at every opportunity and are preparing for when mother nature delivers,” Butterworth said. “We are ready for the season to begin and cannot wait to welcome our guests back to the slopes.”

According to Sarah Watt, the head of visitor experience at Falls Creek alpine resort, ski resorts typically receive a “big dump” of snow between the 19-24 June.

“No snow season is a bad snow season,” she said. “Some are just better than others.”

“So many people barely even notice the difference between natural and man-made snow … they just want to come up and have fun.”

However, snowmaking, which is expensive and energy intensive, poses environmental risks. It also takes two to three weeks longer to melt than natural snow, which has adverse effects on the surrounding ecosystems and the water table.

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The CSIRO has attributed the decline in snow levels and snow days, which have been decreasing since the 1950s, to the climate crisis.

However, the Rocky Valley dam, which is part of the Kiewa hydroelectric scheme, provides Falls Creek resort with an “endless supply of water” which Watt said made the snow-making process more sustainable.

While the levels of natural snow have varied over the last few years due toLa Niña, Levesque said lower levels of snow could be expected in coming years due to global warming.

He said warming temperatures over the past few decades has led to a decrease in snow depth, which has in turn made ski seasons shorter.

Caitlin Minney, a climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said this year’s winter would be warmer than usual.

The bureau is forecasting that average minimum and maximum temperatures this season will be in the top 20% compared to past winters, she said.

“This isn’t surprising, because we are seeing the impacts of a warming climate.”

Minney said typical levels of rain this winter were to be expected in Sydney and Brisbane, with below-median levels of rain forecast for Melbourne.

The bureau’s official winter long range forecast will be issued on 30 May.

Source: theguardian.com