In Winter 2014/2015, the Jungfrau Ski Region with its unique panorama of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau decided to equip 17 of its snow groomers with SNOWsat. Now the first season is over, we take a look back with the managers there. As Manager of the Firstbahn and the Winter Sports division at Jungfraubahnen, Marco Luggen has been involved in the project right from the start. The same goes for Toni Fuhrer, Manager of Snow Grooming and Garage in the Grindelwald-First sub-region.
PistenBully News: How did the decision to buy SNOWsat come about?
Marco Luggen: Naturally, it was a long process. I had heard about this system through several channels, in the trade press, during a visit by your firm and especially from my drivers. They are really well informed and networked...
Toni Fuhrer: The exchange of information between the drivers works well and the men came back with this proposal after an info day in Meiringen 4 years ago.
PistenBully News: What were the main arguments that finally led to the decision?
Marco Luggen: Snow grooming is a major cost factor in winter sports. That’s why we look very closely at innovations in this field. Additionally, it is part of the corporate culture that employees bring new ideas and that their arguments are heard too. So then we took a much closer look at SNOWsat and found our drivers’ idea very interesting.
Toni Fuhrer: Some were sceptical at first and were worried about the monitoring. “We know where the snow is”, was a typical response.
Marco Luggen: Then our trip to Titlis last year was decisive – where we had been invited to a presentation of the system. We had heated discussions on the journey out, and during the presentation too there were still objections from some of my people. Once we got up to the Trübsee lake, they got their hands on a vehicle and could see what the system can do and what it offers in practice. And when we sat down together afterwards with a coffee, that’s when the 180° U-turn was really apparent. This one trip swept away all doubt. You simply have to experience SNOWsat live to get a proper understanding of it.
Toni Fuhrer: And we suddenly didn’t hear any more about “monitoring” either...
Marco Luggen: I have always made clear to the drivers that this was absolutely not about monitoring, but that my wish is that every driver profits from it. They were part of the SNOWsat decision from the start and knew exactly what to expect. I am convinced that that’s the crucial point for the extraordinary acceptance among the drivers.
Toni Fuhrer: The main benefit we see is that drivers get their feedback 1:1 in the vehicle and can react straightaway to that.
Marco Luggen: Safeguarding know-how and optimizing snow grooming were significant arguments. With an experienced driver, who leaves us for one reason or another, we always lose a lot of expertise. With SNOWsat at least some of this experience is saved and it can be improved and passed on from year to year.
PistenBully News: What has changed in the way you work and communicate?
Marco Luggen: We were already using the existing experience, such as snow volume per shaft and snowfall, very specifically in our planning. So we did achieve good slope quality in the past too. Last winter when we had very little snowfall, however, SNOWsat provided additional information, helping us distribute the existing snow more effectively, which meant we could make a greater area available to our visitors early on. And it really came down to centimeters. The downhill runs were excellent up to the end of the season.
Toni Fuhrer: You now know the snow depth as soon as you drive over it. There’s no more getting out and measuring with the pole! Marking out the slopes is much easier now too. We have stored our data in the system, and then last season we were able to mark the edges of the slopes really easily even in the thickest fog – just using the navigation. Without SNOWsat we had to do that at night when there was fog – because you can’t see anything at all during the day – everything is just white.
PistenBully News: Is snow production also planned with more precision now?
Marco Luggen: We built a very modern linked snow production system in the First sub-region a good 14 years ago. We’re still using it today and are now a bit limited in snow production output compared to our other sub-regions. SNOWsat helps here to make better use of the existing snow production. So it helps to make a good quality slope with the existing natural snow and relatively little machine-made snow. For around 6 years now, there have also been more modern snow production facilities in the Kleine Scheidegg/Männlichen area. The main focus there was on operating the modern system at the optimum and as economically as possible.
PistenBully News: What do you see as the biggest advantages of the system?
Toni Fuhrer: With SNOWsat it is much much easier to train new drivers. Especially in bad weather conditions, a new driver has hardly any orientation. One of us always had to be with them to start with in the past. Now we show him all the tricky spots on the display or with a print-out; he gets to know his area much quicker and can rely on the data.
Marco Luggen: The opening date of the ski region is totally crucial. Reports in the pre-season about the open ski region stay in guests’ heads all winter long and are a testament to snow security and good slope quality. After we got snow so late last season, SNOWsat really came to us at the right time. We were able to open some slopes earlier than we would have been able to without SNOWsat. Every scrap of snow that was lying anywhere, was removed and distributed perfectly.
Toni Fuhrer: The melting period was also much more relaxed. Many of our slopes are cultivated farmland. That means we have to shift the snow, meaning distribute it, as soon as the ski season finishes, to ensure it melts away as fast and evenly as possible. There was always a little ground damage in the past if a driver had removed snow too deeply and had driven on the bare ground. This spring that worked much better and without any major damage.
PistenBully News: How satisfied are you with the service provided by PistenBully, during and since installation and commissioning?
Toni Fuhrer: The presentation was very helpful for me personally. I was also able to use that to give my people a better understanding of SNOWsat. The time pressure was enormous, as we were only able to place our order at the start of November. So part of the installation took until the middle of the season.
PistenBully News: But thanks to your good preparation we did manage it together!
Marco Luggen: We were really impressed by the system and had already clarified all technical issues and requirements with the experts from PistenBully well in advance as a result. But I just had to stick to our budget, which is adopted in November for the following season. We definitely wanted to use the system for the imminent season though. And with this in mind, I have to say that it really was a great achievement by PistenBully to have installed it in all 17 vehicles by Christmas. It was a real stroke of luck too given the lack of snow last winter – we really needed it! Now we have a season behind us and can refine the database and the system for next season.
PistenBully News: And we too have learnt a lot of course during this project! This experience makes it easier for us as well and helps us to modify SNOWsat more efficiently so that it is better suited to the needs of ski resorts.
Marco Luggen: With our 17 vehicles, the size of the region and above all the short timescale, there were naturally a couple of issues that didn’t work straight- away. But we were pleased with the dedication and expertise used to resolve things.
PistenBully News: Are you able to comment specifically on cost savings after just one season?
Marco Luggen: In terms of specific figures I can’t say yet, as we only really started in the middle of the season. Of course we have thought about it – not least because of the six-figure investment. We have concluded that comprehensive coverage with SNOWsat will certainly pay off. Just alone thanks to the direct feedback from the system to snow groomer drivers. I am convinced that the biggest efficiency comes with the drivers, who are sitting in the machine and can see exactly what they’re doing. They are certainly working more effectively and that saves time and of course money. Another area of improvement is in effective snow production. The production of machine-made snow is a considerable cost factor in a ski resort. All the more so when you’re dealing with 206 km of slopes! Thanks to satellite-guided snow depth measurement, the region can now shift the existing natural snow with extreme precision. This has an impact on the volume of snow that needs to be produced. Our snow managers have always been concerned about managing water supplies carefully. In future they will be able to define the snow production areas and the actual and target values more precisely. This increases security and leads to less water consumption.
Our vehicles consume corresponding amounts of fuel as well. We are talking about some CHF 600,000 a year. If we can save just a few percent here, then that is really something. Altogether I estimate that the investment will have paid for itself within three years. That’s a timescale you can bank on!
PistenBully News: What do the drivers think of SNOWsat? Were there concerns? What is their opinion now? Is driving more fun now?
Toni Fuhrer: PistenBully have always been fun to drive – and also remain so! SNOWsat makes lots of things easier! You can plan better, reviewing your section of the slope the evening before, and know exactly where there is need and where snow is scarce on the slope.
Marco Luggen: I have also had feedback that there are already grumblings if drivers have to take out a vehicle that isn’t fitted with SNOWsat. All our drivers are happy now to have SNOWsat in the machines. That’s confirmation enough for me that our decision was the right one.
PistenBully News: Thanks for talking to us!
Jungfraubahn Holding AG comprises eight subsidiaries and employs around 800 people in high season. The Group principally operates excursion railways and winter sports facilities in the Jungfrau region. It offers visitors an adventure in the mountains and on the trains against a unique backdrop. The Jungfraubahn Group has three defined business divisions: Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe, Winter Sports and Mountain Experience.
The Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe, with the highest railway station in Europe at an altitude of 3,454 metres, is the most profitable division of the Group.
This is complemented perfectly by the Winter Sports and Mountain Experience divisions in the areas of Scheidegg-Männlichen and Grindelwald-First.
40 lifts and 206 kilometres of slopes ensure top-class fun and winter sports throughout the Jungfrau ski region.