Slope Construction Methods Impact Ecology Differently

Jan 14, 2010 By Chris Gorski, ISNS

Recent low temperatures and massive snow storms may have skiers ready for the slopes, but it's unlikely that a long run through fresh powder makes skiers question how the run was created.

When preparing a new run, any tall, woody vegetation is cut down low to the soil. This is termed clearing. Often ski resorts take an extra step, called grading, and use machines to remove tree stumps and boulders in an effort to level out the slope. The latter process is much more disruptive to the ecology, according to research published in the journal Ecological Applications.

The two options often result in conditions that differ enough to be recognized on aerial photographs, said Jennifer Burt, a restoration ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who studied ski resorts in California's Mountains.

"Graded and cleared ski runs have greatly different amounts of plant growth and erosion," said Burt. "Plants grow back better on cleared ski runs, which have greater vegetative cover and greater cover by shrubs."

Grading removes more vegetation than clearing and makes the soil less conducive for , which results in more erosion. Runs are typically only graded once, and both types of runs require clearing when vegetation grows more than a couple of feet high.

"Most ski area managers I've spoken with suggested that erosion control measures needed on graded ski runs were more time intensive than any additional vegetation maintenance pruning that might be needed on cleared ," said Burt.

Although the study did not analyze the economics of the decision, Burt added that it would be important for such an analysis to consider the social and environmental impacts that are not very easy to quantify. Cleared runs require a thicker base of snow to ski on than graded runs, meaning that a graded trail could open about one week earlier with less snow.

"It would be very interesting for someone to conduct an economic study on the net cost differences between the different methods of ski slope construction," she said.

Explore further: US delays decision on Keystone pipeline project

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ski Runs Are Not Created Equal

Dec 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Building a new ski run by bulldozing a mountainside rather than only cutting its shrubs and trees is far more damaging ecologically, yet might offer only a week's earlier start to the downhill season, says ...

Skiers look at their back yard, not slopes

Dec 11, 2007

A study suggested that U.S. skiers are less likely to head to the slopes if their backyards are snow-free, despite how much snow is reported at ski areas.

Recommended for you

New research on Earth's carbon budget

11 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Results from a research project involving scientists from the Desert Research Institute have generated new findings surrounding some of the unknowns of changes in climate and the degree to which ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...