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West Wall Poma: 30th December

During the warm windy conditions on the 29th December, the team removed the old, stored chestnut fencing that is being replaced. Access to locations like the West Wall Poma is very difficult due to steep slopes and needs to be undertaken during the correct time to minimise ground pressures and for the safety of our staff.

Above you can see the steepest section of the West Wall Poma uptrack where the PB600 Winchcat is removing old, stockpiled fencing using the new log grab which was commissioned last season.

Last year our team worked with manufacturers to design implements for our Winch Cat which has improved our ability to remove and install snow fencing on the most challenging terrain within the ski area. This also requires highly skilled drivers using the correct snow conditions to safely conduct the task. The new log grab has allowed the compaction of broken fencing to maximise loads and we now have the ability to reduce manual handling and increase the volume of redundant fencing extraction.

In the image above you can see the winch cable which is attached to the back of the machine. This cable is anchored to a fixed point at the top of the steep section. It’s important to note that without this system the piste machine would not be able to access this area in the majority of conditions.

Above you can see how the ‘log grab’ works in practice; compacting redundant snow fencing in it’s claw. By working in this way, and on snow, we can minimise the ground pressure and number of trips required for the task. By storing the redundant fencing in the summer months and waiting for the snow, we are then able to reduce the environmental impact in the area.

The skills required for this job are significant as the terrain is steep and the access route can be very narrow. In this picture above the PB600 is using the winch (previously pictured) to reverse back up the steep terrain for about 400m.

We are working to a fencing plan to renew lines and maximise our potential of catching snow particularly in stormy conditions which often have a very small window of opportunity. The task of replacing and removing broken and redundant fencing should not be underestimated as we have around 32.5km still to be completed. Last summer our small fencing team hand dug every post on the steep section of the West Wall Poma track, down to the elevation where the orientation of the fence is less critical for catching snow as the area becomes more sheltered. The more exposed upper track is critical with snow moving in higher winds. The ground conditions were also a factor at this elevation as peat becomes dominant and posts less secure by hand digging.

The picture above shows the current snow levels towards the bottom of the West Wall Poma. The lower section of fencing is scheduled to be replaced this winter using the PB600 with the newly fitted ‘post-chapper’. The reason for this is that the post-chapper would be unable to access this area in the summer. The ground conditions in this area are predominately peat which means that the post-chapper is better suited (for post stability) than hand digging. With lots to do, we have to prioritize works, but you can see from this image taken yesterday, we have fenced the areas that are exposed to high winds and drifting snow. We have favoured these areas over the bowl and at the base of the lift where we need huge quantities of snow before drifting will take place as it is more sheltered.

The lower section of the WWP track will be completed during this winter as planned, using our newly designed post chapper mounted on our Winch Cat. The scale of the replacement of snow fencing requires concentrating time and manpower on the areas that will make the most difference in the short term and then moving into secondary areas further out. Our primary objective was to renew fencing from the Top station to the Base station which was achieved within the first two summers. The next priority was to renew the fencing from the top of the Ptarmigan tow to the top station and into the Ptarmigan bowl, along with the complete replacement of the White Lady Elephant fence and the White Lady fences which were also all hand dug. Over the past two summers we have concentrated on the Ciste Fairway, the M2 and steepest section of the West Wall Poma all of which have the most exposure to winds within the ski area, they also have the most potential to catch snow which is normally lost in the strongest storms.

During storms which strip the mountain of it’s snow, this new fencing will help catch drifts as can be seen in the picture above. This new fencing was put in above the top station in the summer and is already demonstrating the positive impact that these methods will have in the winter season. Once the drifts have built up around these fences the piste machines can then push the snow out to link runs together which allowed us to open at the start of the week.

This image shows winds speeds in excess of of 80mph and how the new fencing is the only thing preventing the snow blowing away. The previous fencing in these areas would not have caught any snow under these circumstances.

Thank you to all the positive comments from our customers regarding our fencing operations and the appreciation of the effort and timescales involved. This project is going to take several seasons to deliver but the benefits for snow capture in the next 15 to 20 years will be vitally important.

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