A feasibility study has released which looks at the potential for further development at the Ben Lomond ski field in north eastern Tasmania. It is called Investment in Ben Lomond Skifield Northern Tasmania. It was produced for a range of clients including local government councils, Tourism Northern Tasmania, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and the Ben Lomond Committee. The committee is composed of the club / lodge and business operators at Ben Lomond and acts as a lobby group for the Ben Lomond skifield.

It proposes some significant developments be undertaken on the plateau in order to make the ski fields viable and extend the ‘green season’ attraction of the mountain. It identifies the likely financial costs of these developments without suggesting a source of finance. It points out that the development will lead to economic benefits across north western Tasmania rather than just the skifield itself. However, while noting the environmental impacts which could come with these developments, it makes no attempt to quantify these.

The report says

In order for Ben Lomond ski field to successfully compete in today’s competitive marketplace as a snow destination and support tourism growth to the region, it will need to “guarantee” snow and reposition itself as an exciting value for money snow experience for 6 – 8 weeks of the year for families and young people”.

The goal should be to establish a sustainable beginners snow play destination with similar features of other viable ski areas in Australia and New Zealand”.

In order to achieve this, the Committee recommends:

Investment in the order of $1.3 million to $1.8 million is required to achieve this outcome. Investment consists of:

» additional snowmaking

» a revitalised snow play experience with magic carpet and snow tube park

» intensive summer grooming to maximise snowmaking effort

» increased water supply and energy capacity

» a new walking track that takes visitors to the Legges Tor from the village

» signage and interpretation and new visitor amenities

The report notes that:

This level of investment is beyond the capacity of current operators. Whilst investment from local skifield operators should contribute to occur, the lease/licence arrangements will need to be restructured to attract new investors”.

The resort

At present, Ben Lomond has 7 ski tows (T-Bars and Pomas) and ski runs with limited fall and length (no greater than 100 metre fall and 500 metre length) and a ski village consisting of a car park, a day shelter and amenities, a cafe, equipment hire and ski instruction, a hotel and club lodges with a total bed capacity of 500.

ben-lomond-ski-resortThe report notes that the operation is currently very marginal and already being impacted by climate change:

The Ben Lomond ski season extends from early July to late September but is often much shorter, hampered by unreliable snow cover which makes the extent of the ski season unpredictable. The retention of snow on the slopes has been a problem due to a decrease in snow falls and the rate of snow melt on exposed rocky terrain. In recent years, two snowmaking guns have been installed on the front slopes of the beginners ski area. While there are a number of cross country skiing routes marked by snow poles, the unreliability of snow cover also means the general mountain area is little used for cross country skiing. The continued reliance on natural snow falls to support ski field activities is no longer considered a viable option, as over time, the skifield will not be able to operate.”

Proposed developments

A 2007 study found that snowmaking is feasible at Ben Lomond with most nights from late June until late July reaching the required conditions (low temperatures). The Ski Slope Plan permitted a formal trial of snowmaking which commenced in 2010”.

However there has been no modelling done about the expected impacts of climate change on future snow making. The report does say that the “average number of temperature windows that are suitable for ski areas to make snow are shortening in duration”.

More intensive grooming (which requires converting alpine heathland and other alpine vegetation to a ‘groomed’ more ‘lawn’ like surface) is seen by the tourism operators as a major priority, as is more investment in snow making equipment. It is estimated that snowmaking is considered feasible for around 8 weeks of the year. The water supply will require augmentation for this to occur. There has been no detailed assessment about the impacts of the grooming, or possibility that it will introduce weed species. Nor has there been any attempt as yet to identify where the water would be sourced from or stored. These would need to be assessed in the approvals phase if financing was secured.

Featured image by Lauchlin Wilkinson (http://www.lauchlin.com/)