WHISTLER, B.C.—The Whistler-Blackcomb ski area will soon begin to make snow to augment its shrinking Horstman Glacier.
The glacier serves as just one of two places in North America where commercial summer skiing operations are conducted. In most recent years—but not the last two years—snowfall on the glacier has actually increased. But winter gains have been quickly lost to summer’s sizzling temperatures.
Arthur De Jong, the mountain planning and environmental resources manager at Whistler-Blackcomb, says studies that began in the 1970s show that winter-time temperatures have increased 0.5 degrees Centigrade, but those in summer have increased 2 degrees C.
The result: an average annual loss of a half-million cubic meters of snow and ice.
De Jong says that after commercial operations end in July, four snowmaking guns and other infrastructure will be installed. It is expected to be used beginning in October.
“If the pilot project is conclusive, this unique project will become a significant addition to Whistler-Blackcomb’s list of adaptations to ensure long-term resilience against climate change,” he said.
Data obtained from the one-year pilot project will be used to determine whether an expanded snowmaking system could assist with preserving the Horstman Glacier, De Jong added.
The glacier is located above treeline, in the alpine zone, which at Whistler begins at 1,920 meters (6,300 feet). The glacier is in a band between 2,100 to 2,300 meters. (6,900 to 7,500 feet).
One determining factor will be whether the effort pencils out economically. Whistler-Blackcomb hopes to boost skier numbers in early winter, beginning in October, while also preserving business in June and July.