The Snow Pioneer

Georg Eisath was instrumental in building the first South Tyrolean snow gun some 40 years ago. Today, the co-founder of TechnoAlpin is a cable car operator with a heart of green. At the Carezza ski resort, flurries of technical snow carpet the slopes

  • November 2019

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The Snow Pioneer

Georg Eisath was instrumental in building the first South Tyrolean snow gun some 40 years ago. Today, the co-founder of TechnoAlpin is a cable car operator with a heart of green. At the Carezza ski resort, flurries of technical snow carpet the slopes

“Go ahead and switch on that snow gun for a few moments they’ll say. We need a tad bit more snow up there they tell me. To this I reply: no thanks it’s too expensive and not worth it," says Georg Eisath. Of course, many of the larger cable car companies wouldn’t hesitate, he explains. But Georg Eisath is not like most ski-resort operators. And this is no conventional ski resort. “Switching on the 500 kilowatt pump for a single snow gun is too expensive,” says Eisath who emphasises that such measures are simply unthinkable for smaller ski resorts.
Georg Eisath designed his first snow guns in the 1980s as an alternative to the propeller machines from abroad, which proved to be sub-optimal for snow production south of the Alps. In 1990, together with Walter Rieder and Erich Gummerer, he co-founded TechnoAlpin. Within a very short time, the company became the world market leader in technical snowmaking. Then, in 2008, Eisath switched teams and instead joined the ranks of cable car operators by simultaneously purchasing the majority of cable car company licenses at the then ailing ski resort between Nova Levante/Welschnofen and the Karerpass in the Eggental valley close to his home. Since that time, Eisath has invested over 40 million euros in all-new snowmaking systems, cable cars, lifts and slopes and named the ski resort “Carezza."

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From snow gun producer to ski lift operator

“In years past, I flew around the world like crazy promoting our products. These days, however, I hardly leave the valley,” says the entrepreneur with disbelief. Why this radical change? When he and his wife took over their family's hotel in 2002, the ski resort at the Rosengarten and Latemar was nearly bankrupt and only the Paolina lift was still running. "You can't build a business on just one lift system when competing ski resorts are getting bigger and more professional by the day," says Eisath. Due to this disparity, fewer and fewer guests were coming to the area and many hotels remained empty in winter, including his own. For locals, there was not enough work in the valley. “Sustainable tourism is a catchy phrase, but nobody can live from it. There comes a time when you have to invest,” says Eisath with conviction.

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Recognising that the valley needed a new economic driver, Eisath decided to get more deeply involved: “We have such a beautiful and unspoilt area here. The opportunity to manage development has been a huge challenge, but also an extremely rewarding opportunity. Where else is it possible to truly shape the future of such a beautiful place? And to be able to do so the right way and with real foresight?” Who better to do so than someone with so many years of experience in the snowmaking sector? The result was a particularly sophisticated concept for the reimagined ski resort of the future: "My life’s work has been the production and preparation of technical snow. Of course, I was looking to make the most of everything… not only to save energy, but also money," he says openly. To run a modern, yet more sustainable ski resort, the first step was a major overhaul.

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The foundation for ‘greener’ snow

Eisath’s greener concept is based on a high-performance, fully automatic system. 20 kilometres of pipes were laid between August and October 2008. In addition, a reservoir, three lift systems, pistes and road overpasses were also constructed. "It was a real challenge to complete," says Eisath with a chuckle. “Looking back now, it’s unimaginable that all this was possible in such a short amount of time." But he and his team managed in time for the start of the season, initially without a proper power supply. "In the first year, we still had to keep the operation going with generators," Eisath says. He then invested more than a million euros in a high-performance power line. "After all, snow production periodically requires a lot of electricity, especially to start up the large pumps. For example, during the ‘window’ when a cold front hits and conditions are perfect for snowmaking.

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Secret weapon: the ‘snowmaking window’

Every year in November, the staff at the Carezza ski resort eagerly awaits the “snowmaking window." Eisath has studied the climate charts for many decades and has noticed that temperatures in the Latemar region always drop significantly for just about two weeks. As a consequence, Eisath precisely plans the right time to produce the first layer of snow for the winter season: "As soon as the ‘temperature window’ reaches -7 to -12 degrees Celsius, I rev up the approx. 200 guns with the fully automatic system within five minutes," explains Eisath.
During the temperature window, the snow guns run three to five days non-stop. Careful planning helps us to save electricity and thus energy: the more capable the system, the better we can exploit the snowmaking windows and this makes snow production more affordable!" Choosing the opportune moment means potentially slashing costs by up to half. Moreover, if the temperature is right, the same amount of energy is used to produce considerably more snow. 

The forecast calls for clear savings

Eisath observes and records everything precisely. He also constantly questions what could be improved. Snowmaking is now more or less an exact science. How is this possible? Eisath explains: "In June of the first year, we had a pile of snow in one place. Then in another place there is no snow in March." Today, he has an exact idea about how much snow each section of the ski resort needs to last the entire winter season. "From the beginning, we’ve recorded exactly how much water we used. For example, we only need 40 centimetres in a certain flat section of field, but where there is natural terrain, we make 80 centimetres of technical snow," says Eisath.
Collecting data on a rolling basis allows administrators to make tweaks and optimise the system. "We have a program that gives us location specific information: in one area 80% of needed snow has been created, or only 30% in a different area. Maybe in yet another area we are at 110% because the slope was widened or has been laid out differently," explains Eisath. For slope preparation, his "snowmen" have a GPS tracking app on their mobile phones that shows exactly how deep the snow layer is and where they have already groomed. Eisath's successful concept has earned the resort the ARGE Alp prize in addition to the title “Alpines Klimaskigebiet” (Sustainable Alpine Ski Resort).

Energy saving measures employed at the Carezza Sustainable Alpine Ski Resort

- South Tyrol’s largest and most environmentally friendly reservoir holds 130,000 m³ of water. It was built to allow the water to flow naturally in summer. Meanwhile, in winter, the water is readily accessible and does not have to be pumped very far.
- Snowmaking: Because the snowmaking system features fully automatic electronic control, all 200 snow guns can be started up in less than 1 minute once the ideal temperature has been reached. Ideally, snow is produced at -10 degrees Celsius instead of -3 degrees Celsius, which cuts costs significantly. The width of the slope, the amount of snow required, and the wind determine whether a snow gun or a snow lance is used to make snow. The right option reduces the waste of resources.
- Slope grooming: 5 snow groomers are used to groom approx. 100 hectares of slopes. To optimise operations, GPS tracking and snow depth measurement takes place in real time. On average, the fleet needs 6 hours to groom (one hour less than before), resulting in fuel savings of almost 25%
- Cable cars and lifts are shut down when demand is low. Info signage informs skiers about the environmentally friendly measures. Events held in the area are certified "green events."

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A tireless winter pioneer

Eisath has declared himself the "greenest cable car operator in South Tyrol.” But does his concept really work? Eisath sure thinks so: guaranteed snow conditions, predictability in winter tourism, jobs for people in the valley, and the rooms in the hotels are filling up again. "For me, green means investing as little energy and resources as possible and at the same time meeting the needs of winter tourists. Clearly, our goal is to promote winter tourism, but by relying on superior technology in a resource conscious manner. Once we’ve made up our minds, we only have to follow through in order to be successful," explains Eisath.

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To say his system works is an understatement: Sustainable skiing in Carezza is a reality. And yet brainstorming the right solutions and tinkering with processes never stops: “It’s my nature to never be satisfied," he laughs: “Chasing perfection is a never-ending story.”
Text: Marlene Lobis 
Photos: Ivo Corrà
Translation into English: Die Sprachdienstleister - Covi, Wurzer & Partner
Video: Taktfilm