Helping Horstman 

Snow guns could be glacier's saving grace

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOHN SMART - glacier snowmaking Far above the village, skiers and riders hone their skills in the summer on the Horstman Glacier. Whistler Blackcomb is moving snow guns to the glacier this year in attempts to slow its recession
  • photo by john smart
  • glacier snowmaking Far above the village, skiers and riders hone their skills in the summer on the Horstman Glacier. Whistler Blackcomb is moving snow guns to the glacier this year in attempts to slow its recession

Whistler Blackcomb's massive snowmaking might is heading to the alpine for the first time ever.

It's a new pilot project aimed at preserving the Horstman Glacier, which has been receding as both summer and winter average temperatures rise, and it's designed primarily with an eye to keeping the summer glacier skiing business going as well as giving Whistler Blackcomb more leverage as it heads into the winter season.

And John Smart, director of Momentum Ski Camps, which has called the glacier home for the past 24 years, called the move "awesome."

"I really believe they can save that glacier," he said.

Over the summer, thousands of skiers and snowboarders use the glacier, which is 26 hectares. They flock to established camps like Momentum and Camp of Champions as well as for national team training.

"Losing that would just be devastating," said Smart.

This year has been the worst in the more than two decades Smart has been skiing and working on the glacier.

"We've never had anything like this," he said, estimating the glacier is down 30 to 40 feet. "We're slowly getting squeezed out on both sides of the glacier."

Just last year Momentum had to move from the right side of the T-bar to another area.

The pilot project will see four low-energy consumption snow guns moved into the Horstman Hut area, blowing snow onto the ridge of the glacier.

It will cost just under half a million dollars but if WB does not move ahead with the permanent snowmaking after the pilot project, it can recoup 75 per cent of the costs by repurposing the infrastructure elsewhere.

The new system will be installed at the end of the summer season on the glacier with snowmaking set to begin in October.

If the pilot project is a success WB will then decide if it will move to an expanded 26-gun snowmaking system on the glacier.

"It's time to intervene from a summer operations point," said WB's mountain planning and environmental resource manager Arthur De Jong. "And maybe nature (will) turn around on us and throw us a nice surprise in the next few years but after the last two (years) we're not counting on that. We'll keep building resilience into our operating system."

Smart is hopeful the pilot project pans out and Whistler Blackcomb moves to a permanent snowmaking system on the glacier.

He added: "Look 20 years down the line and will that glacier still be there? Probably not. But if they do this, there's a good chance."

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