Are Synthetic Ski Slopes the Future?

October 26, 2016
synthetic ski slopes
Courtesy of SnowflexSnowflex makes one of several synthetic ski slopes growing in popularity in the Northeast.

A new technology is helping ski resorts adapt to climate change and perhaps even extend their seasons beyond the winter. So-called dry slopes, or synthetic surfaces that transform a hill or mountain into a skiable slope year-round, are already in use throughout Europe. Now they’re gaining popularity in America.

Makers of dry slopes include Perma-snow, Skitrax, Proslope, and Snowflex, the last of which is used by more than 30 European sites and has made the jump to America. Snowflex’s synthetic surface, made from polymer monofilaments, mimics the performance of snow and is compatible with regular ski, snowboard, and sledding equipment.

Liberty Mountain in Virginia opened the first U.S. Snowflex slope in 2009. Since then, tubing slopes and Olympic ski-jump training facilities in Colorado, New York, and Utah have adopted the system. According to Snowflex, a dozen more U.S. sites are in development, including four in the Northeast.

As ski resorts grapple with the effects of climate change, from increasingly unpredictable weather to shortened seasons like last winter’s, dry slopes offer a tantalizing opportunity. “Mother nature is no guarantee for the right temperatures,” says Dieter Sturm, a U.S. representative for Snowflex. “For both natural and manmade snow, it can make or break your financial season.”

On top of that insurance, there’s another potential savings: “You no longer have to pump snow, which eliminates a huge amount of cost and energy usage,” says Kevin Hoff, Liberty Mountain’s marketing coordinator. If heavy snows cover the synthetic surface, skiing can continue uninterrupted, although a light snow and icy conditions are trickier. “The snow has a tendency to get icy and caked, which makes it a bit sketchy to ride,” Hoff says.

Even with that drawback, positive reviews are pouring in for the Snowflex slope at Liberty Mountain. Dry slopes may be the necessary next step in adapting to climate change and bringing in year-round revenue at ski resorts.

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Amanda Keohane

AMC Outdoors, the magazine of the Appalachian Mountain Club, inspires readers to get outside and get engaged. Learn more.