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Computers Determine Where To Build Ski Resorts

Illustration for article titled Computers Determine Where To Build Ski Resorts

As we continue to engineer the perfect foods, animals, and children, scientists have figured out a way to engineer the perfect winter resort — by using software to pinpoint the best powder and mountain slopes to build them on.


New Scientist reports that geographers Jordan Silberman and Peter Rees, both professors at the University of Delaware, have developed a geographical information system (GIS) that allows resort entrepreneurs to plug in their resort dream — small and exclusive resort or mega slopes — and the app will geolocate the best conditions and spot for the venture.

Says New Scientist:

The software then homes in on the preferred general region and seeks out those locations with the combinations of available land and humidity levels most likely to produce powder snow. Among many other factors, it also analyses accessibility by road, slope steepness — to work out the risk of avalanches — and the likely erosion from tree felling. A key factor is the ready availability of electricity to power the ski lifts.


Will city Olympic committees use this software to argue their way into becoming the winning town for future Winter Olympics? We can already see the genetically engineered slalom skiers lining up on their perfectly situated ski slopes.

Geo software aims to avoid ski resort eco-disasters [New Scientist]

Image via Freaking News

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This technique is not new, GIS is perfectly suited for this kind of study, and has been used this way for years and years. These guys just made a proprietary system that saves some steps, or something.

GIS is also used to located sites near dependable sources of water (for snow-making), reliable year-round transportation, proximity to other resorts (if that matters to the developer) nearness to habitat of threatened/endangered species (for permitting purposes), and lots of other factors. It takes years to get permits approved for resort, so they check all this stuff.

The cool thing about the environmental conditions (snow depth, snow type, when first snowfall occurs, when temperatures start staying below freezing all day) is that they can be summed up pretty accurately by elevation and aspect. In Colorado, for example, if you can find a north-facing slope above 8500 ft, you have a good chance of having great snow conditions. Then you just need to eliminate sites based on the other criteria.

Also, there is no way that anybody would ultimately trust such an expensive decision to software. The Achilles heel of GIS is the quality and format of available data. GIS studies are done to locate areas likely to be favorable, then consultants go onsite and take lots and lots of measurements. These measurements include local snow conditions, aspect (which way the slope is facing), slope, vegetation type, and lots and lots of other stuff.

Oh yeah, extensive market studies are done too. GIS only helps with this a little.

I actually have some experience with this. Before getting wise and switching to something fun and marketable (geology) I was a GIS major for 3 semesters, and did class projects on this very scenario.

GIS=complicated, useful, but will not replace ground-truth data anytime soon.