THE SKI AREA WHICH ALSO GENERATES ELECTRICITY

The See ski area is well laid-out, popular with families and leisure skiers – and innovative. Because not only is snow produced here, but also the electricity to make that snow. And more. Trisanna reports from the station of the future.

The See ski area lies at the entrance to Paznaun. It has more than 41 kilometres of slopes, 8km of which are blue, 8 black and 25 red. The lifts go up to a height of 2 450m. And the ski area has one special distinguishing feature: it generates the electricity needed to run the entire facility itself. The generator buildings and pumping stations for this innovative system can be found along the valley descent.

In the year 2018, the mountain railways had already invested around 5.5m euros in order to construct a combined snow-making facility and power plant. The system consists of three turbine buildings. The Medrigjoch pumping station houses four high-pressure pumps with a total pump capacity of 1 100 kilowatts. The upper station is equipped with two high-pressure pumps, whilst the lower one has a compressor station and a hydroelectric installation capable of generating a maximum of 2 000 kilowatts.

In addition, there’s the water catchment with de-sanding facilities, 11 700m of pressure piping and 25 kilometres of underground cables, amongst others. The snow-making system comprises around eighty propeller machines and forty snow cannons.

The idea is based on the following principle: water from the many local mountain streams is collected in three water catchments, as the large basins are called. This water is then either pumped into the snow-making machine as required, or used to drive the two hydraulic turbines generating electricity.

It might sound logical – but the implementation proved complex. What makes this system in See so unique is not just the electricity generation. This happens in other ski areas, too. What’s special is the “combination of snow-making facilities and electricity generation,” explains managing director Herbert Zangerl.

The energy balance: the mountain railways in See use 1.5 gigawatt hours of electricity each year for the lifts and artificial snow. In addition, 10 000 litres of diesel go on slope grooming, as well as 25 000 litres of gas and 5 000 litres of fuel oil on heating the restaurants.

The See ski area power plant produces 11 gigawatt hours of electricity each year. More in the summer, less in the winter, when the water is also used for the snow-making machines – unless a very snowy winter such as this one does that job itself. In total, around four time as much electricity is generated in this way as is needed to run the See ski area.

A question for the managing director: leaving aside the positive ecological and logistical impact, is the power plant also a viable economic business for the mountain railways?

The answer is concise but clear: “Yes.”