Maintaining the perfect piste

Slope management in Skiwelt Kaiser-Brixental

Countless beautiful slopes, surrounded by breathtaking views of more than 70 mountains. To winter sports enthusiasts, Skiwelt Kaiser-Brixental in Austria is a kind of paradise. Every season, two million guests are welcomed. How do you make sure all of those pistes are ready for them? Welcome to the world of slope management.

“Skiwelt Kaiser-Brixental is one of the largest interconnected skiing areas in Austria,” says Johannes Winkler, the manager of Bergbahn Ellmau-Going, part of the Skiwelt. In total, Skiwelt Kaiser-Brixental has over 284 kilometers of skiing-pistes. And so, says Skiwelt’s Andi Haselsberger, “There is quite a lot to prepare and a lot of work to be done in terms of ensuring snow height and volume.”

To make sure the guests can count on good, safe, well-groomed slopes anytime, Haselsberger and his colleagues decided to bring a system called ARENA Slope Management into play.

“A skiing area should not be viewed as something static,” states Markus Tusch, project manager and geomanagement specialist at PowerGIS, the company behind ARENA Slope Management. “Ski runs are created and altered, the terrain changes constantly. It’s a big challenge to keep everything up to date and to collate all the data that is either collected by us, delivered by partners, or provided by planners. We have to assemble the data and then process it in such a way that the snow groomers can access it and make use of it.”

The team tells us how they use data to maintain a solid snow cover. A few of the keywords: snow height measurement. "That allows you to begin the season with wider pistes because you know exactly how much snow is under the groomer,” says Andi Haselsberger. “You can spread it nice and evenly and make an ideal surface for the skiers. Another advantage is that we know were to add more snow and where it’s not needed. Those are the major advantages we’ve experienced so far.”

“A skiing area should not be viewed as something static. The terrain changes constantly. Data should be processed in such a way that snow groomers can make use of it."

Markus Tusch, geomanagement specialist at PowerGIS

Always an ideal surface

“I’d say the key aspect of snow height measurement is data,” says Markus Tusch. “We don’t measure the height of the snow directly, but rather the difference in relation to an existing model of the terrain in summer. The difference is the snow height. The more accurate the data we collect here, the more precise the snow height measurement will be.”

Tusch tells us how it’s done. “We carry out large-scale surveys of the terrain using airborne laser-scanning. A plane flies over the area and the terrain is scanned using a laser beam. We now do airborne scans over smaller areas using drones that take photogrammetric images. For very small changes to the terrain we use a hand-held terrestrial device for manual surveys.”

“The biggest strength of slope management becomes apparent in the management platform, where people can get an overview of the entire area,” says Tusch. “You can define beforehand how much snow you want in an area. The ‘snow-making’ can be planned accordingly. The control system can switch on snow canons, when more snow is needed, and switch them off again when it's done.”

The dashboard is accessible to the drivers. One of them is Christian Aschbacher, who has groomed snow for 34 seasons. “We check out the recent information together. Then we plan who will drive where and we assign machinery. We look at the images from the previous day so we can spread the snow effectively. It’s absolutely ideal. Also, new drivers, who don’t know the terrain or the pistes very well, can fully rely on the system.”

“The snow is always evenly spread. Also, new drivers – who don’t know the terrain very well yet, can fully rely on the system.”

Christian Ashbacher, snow groomer in Skiwelt Kaiser-Brixental

A serious advantage during bad weather

“In the winter of 2016-17, we carried out tests with the three biggest suppliers of snow height measurement and slope management systems,” says Andi Haselsberger. “We decided to choose Arena because of its state-of-the-art technology and the great team backing it up.”

One difference is clearly visible these days, says Haselsberger. “We no longer see the dark marks in the middle, where the snow groomers ploughed too deep - which used to happen quite easily. I think this is the main difference our guests notice.”

Manuel Rainer, project manager at PowerGIS, explains: “Each driver has a monitor inside his vehicle cab, on which he can see the depth of the snow underneath. He can switch to tracks, search for tunnels, and basically has a navigation tool for his daily work.”

Developing ARENA Slope Management, the company embraced Topcon’s machine control hardware. “Topcon is primarily known in the construction industry, but we adapted their instruments for use on the ski slopes,” says Rainer. “The great thing about Topcon equipment is that it can be fitted to the snow groomers, and the snow height measurement works using GPS receivers.”

And so, each and every slope is right there on the screen. “The edges of the pistes are indicated on the drivers’ monitors, which is a serious advantage during bad weather. It helps young drivers who aren’t yet very familiar with the terrain,” says Johannes Winkler, and he concludes: “I hope the tourists experience the benefits of our approach by enjoying even better pistes here.”

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