They defy icy temperatures and pursue their work with passion: Michel Frison-Roche*, Director of the Régie des Saisies ski resort near Albertville, Christian Reverbel, Deputy Director of the SATA tourism company (Alpe d’Huez) and Stephan Schelbli, Operations Manager of Titlis Bergbahnen. Nobody knows more about the mountain hares and the snow groomers than these three. So PistenBully News has asked them about their initial experience with SNOWsat.
PistenBully News: Thank you for taking this time to talk to us. Let’s turn our thoughts straight to the Alps: What are the particular challenges that you are currently facing in your ski resorts?
Michel Frison-Roche: In contrast to many other French ski resorts we can count ourselves lucky: we are even expanding! This year we’ve added around 7 km of slopes. Our snow-making systems have had to be expanded continually as a result, so that we can guarantee the consistent quality of the slopes. That’s the only way to equip ourselves as best we can for extreme situations caused by the climate.
PistenBully News: Climate change plays a central role in all planning then?
Christian Reverbel: Naturally it is a major concern for us that there is less snow every year. For our staff this means an increasing challenge to maintain the snow covering and to achieve the slope quality that our guests have come to expect.
Stephan Schelbli: Lower-lying ski resorts are disappearing just as the glaciers are. We cannot escape climate change unfortunately. That’s why we’re investing 10 million euros over the next 5 years in upgrading snow production. I believe it is worth it: skier days with us at Titlis are actually increasing.
PistenBully News: Is this huge investment really necessary to continue meeting the demands of skiers?
Christian Reverbel: For me our figures confirm it: guests only come back when we can offer them good snow quality every day, regardless of what the weather’s doing. For this reason, we have focussed on a system that delivers seamless reporting on the work of our snow groomers and snow-making installations.
PistenBully News: That goes some way to answering our next question: Why did you decide to invest in SNOWsat?
Michel Frison-Roche: Our fleet is made up 100 % of PistenBully. When Kässbohrer took over SNOWsat and developed new software, it was logical for us to stay with this supplier.
Stephan Schelbli: For us it was our snow management partner Mazzetta & Menegon, who emphatically recommended SNOWsat.
Christian Reverbel: Because of the possibility of optimising artificial snow production. We were also impressed by the bonus of safety in bad weather conditions and everything to do with the winch cables and the fleet management with all its advantages.
Michel Frison-Roche: The finely-tuned snow management was also an argument for me as a director. I also felt the reduction in water and power costs to produce artificial snow was urgently needed.
PistenBully News: The environment should also profit from such economic considerations.
Michel Frison-Roche: Definitely, because all in all it’s about using resources economically. When SNOWsat reduces fuel consumption, for example, that improves the ski resort’s carbon footprint.
Christian Reverbel: For us there were also a few other things: the networking and analysis tools were expected to make fleet management more efficient. We also wanted to offer our drivers increased safety in conditions of poor visibility.
Michel Frison-Roche: Yes, SNOWsat’s mapping of the whole terrain is really useful. That was also a criterion in our decision in Les Saisies.
PistenBully News: You all now have your first season with SNOWsat behind you. What has the system meant for your ski resorts specifically?
Stephan Schelbli: We have been able to plan more precisely and work more efficiently as a result. That applies to the snow-making installations just as much as to terrain corrections. Now we have optimum snow production and the snow always lies where it is supposed to lie.
Michel Frison-Roche: In this regard we have been very pleased with the evaluation of operating data: thanks to SNOWsat, we can foresee the abrasion zones on the slopes and tackle these promptly with artificial snow. Precise snow grooming plans have increased the efficiency of snow management overall. Apart from that, we are pleased that we can now guarantee sufficient snow depth throughout the whole season.
Christian Reverbel: We have had very similar experiences. I have already mentioned the difficulty of snow grooming in poor visibility. Now we have been able to hit two snow grouse with one stone so to speak (laughs) thanks to the display of slope boundaries and the position of the other vehicles: the drivers are working more safely and grooming is more needs-oriented.
PistenBully News: Which brings us to profitability. Do you already have exact figures for the savings you have made with SNOWsat?
Michel Frison-Roche: No, we are still missing some crucial feedback for reliable figures. It’s definitely true that we have seen an optimisation effect on several levels, but for precise measurement data I’ll have to ask that you come back to me in two to three seasons.
PistenBully News: We will take you at your word! And how is the saving effect looking in Switzerland?
Stephan Schelbli: At Titlis we have put a few figures together already. Fuel consumption for the fleet has fallen by 15 percent, and driving time for snow grooming has fallen from 8 to 7 hours per night.
Christian Reverbel: That is a really good sign! Unfortunately though, I have to agree with Mr Frison-Roche for the moment: we don’t have proper figures yet. However, we expect a clear optimization in snow production from the V3 system, once the data connections are set up between SNOWsat and the control point for the snow-making installations.
PistenBully News: How has it been for the people working directly with the system? Has anything changed for your drivers because of SNOWsat?
Michel Frison-Roche: Well, SNOWsat was a touchy subject initially, because the drivers were worried that they were primarily being monitored. But they quickly realised the value of this system in the fog.
Christian Reverbel: Interesting that it was just the same for you! Our drivers also mistrusted the GPS in the beginning. They are now using it gladly though to plot their routes or to detect the position of other snow groomers. Of course a seamless communication network is a form of monitoring; but above all it means safety for the slope team.
Stephan Schelbli: With regard to safety: our drivers found that they could find anchor points during snow grooming much more quickly with SNOWsat.
PistenBully News: Is there any feedback from your workshop foremen?
Michel Frison-Roche: The increased safety was also apparent there: the regular display checks help us with preventative maintenance and improve service planning.
Stephan Schelbli: Exactly, prevention is the key word that I keep hearing from our workshop foremen.
PistenBully News: Let’s finish by considering the guests themselves. Do skiers and snowboarders generally appreciate the improvement in snow quality coupled with resource conservation?
Michel Frison-Roche: No, our guests don’t really consider the work that has to go on behind the scenes. But we do incorporate information on environmental protection into our communication – such as the fact that we are certified in accordance with ISO 14000 – but it does not seem to be a major concern for our visitors.
PistenBully News: There seems to be a gap here between professed environmental awareness and everyday behaviour. That is a social problem and one for which we must all look to ourselves. Thank you for talking to us.
*Editor's note: Mr. Frison-Roche passed away in october, 2018.