At some 17km the Sarenne at Alpe d’Huez is reputed to be the longest black ski run in the world. Starting on the Pic du Lac Blanc at 3330 meters it follows the Glacier de Sarenne over the first section before cutting through a rocky valley before merging with a blue run from Auris. The piste is symbolic, a powerful marketing tool for the resort.
The South-East Sarenne glacier is in a sorry state these days It has never recovered from the 2003 heatwave when it lost 5 meters of ice. In 2008 the glacier lost another 2.5 meters, a record for Europe. The summer skiing is a distant memory. If the current warming trend continues experts predict that the glacier may disappear within the next decade.
The surface of the glacier has shrunk from 124 hectares in 1908 to 85 hectares in 1952 and just 41 hectares in 2003. Only 35 meters of ice depth remains. Winter precipitation in the area, which at the altitude of the Sarenne mainly falls as snow, has increased 15% since 1977. However the summer melt-off has increased 40% since 1982. Freezing temperatures come 12 days later in autumn. Average temperatures at 1°C higher in September and 1.6°C in October.
The resort isn’t resigned to the slow death of its emblematic glacier. Zermatt and Val Thorens have toyed with covering their glaciers with reflective film during the summer but Christian Reverbel, head of piste services, hopes to save the Sarenne with snow making. Alpe d’Huez has a lot of expertise in this field. “Artificial snow is much more weather resistant than natural snow, it can serve as a protective skin for the glacier”. Reverbel’s plan is to collect melt water in an artificial lake and then start snow making the moment it is cold enough using 60 canons. The project is supported by the department and is now waiting for planning permission.
Will it work? Val d’Isere already has snow making on the Pissalaise glacier and after a break it has restarted summer skiing but has trouble operating beyond the middle of July. Tignes is also facing the eventual closure of its summer ski area. A couple of years ago the melt at the base of the Grande Motte glaciers caused a massive ice avalanche.
Posted by davidof
on Wednesday, 17 March, 2010 at 11:26 PM
This for some reason reminds me of King Canute, and the end result will probably be the same… failure.
Posted by on Friday, 19 March, 2010 at 12:12 PM
It’s designation as a “Black” is just marketing - there are parts which can be graded as “Red” but most of it is “Blue. Nonetheless it is an epic run and from quite high an altitude which in certain conditions dictate some serious skiing. There are also some very interesting “Itineraries” off it which make for some excellent ski touring. As to saving the Glacier, then I agree with the previous contributor - we need a successful King Canute
Posted by on Friday, 19 March, 2010 at 11:55 PM
I have returned from 3valees a week ago after a mere 1year abstinence to this resort - the state of the Peclet glacier was a shock. You need a microscope to search the rests of the glacier, the exit from the lift and piste had to be extensively modified. 2 years ago there was still plenty of ice. Likewise the Chaviere glacier lost noticeably, some other glaciers that are on 10-20 year old maps are only remembered by veterans.
Posted by on Sunday, 28 March, 2010 at 12:32 PM
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