With spring just around the corner, the snow balance resulting from a winter that started out extremely dry and ended up slightly less dry is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The snow that fell at higher elevations limited the damage only from the perspective of the landscape but did not alleviate concerns about the availability of water the high-elevation mountain huts will be able to enjoy during the summer.
Ph. Andreas Tamanini, archive picture
A winter that offers no solace
“During this period, you will have heard people saying that they can’t wait for summer to come”, wrote the SAT (Tridentine Mountaineering Society) Glaciological Commission in early February, adding, “We’re still waiting for winter to arrive”, referring to the data collected by the Cima Foundation and published in mid-January, concerning what is defined as a “strong deficit of the snow water stock (the amount of water present in the form of snow).” Of course, the following weeks brought a partial improvement of the situation: “The quantities of precipitation that fell in Veneto during the month of January”, reports ARPAV for example, “are 19% higher than the average for the period between 1994 and 2021”, but if we consider the period from the beginning of the 2022/23 water year, “the quantity that has fallen is lower than the average, with a negative difference of 21%. […] The scarcity of water resources, even if generally improving, is still impacting a large part of the high plateau. The late winter and early spring would need to bring higher-than-normal levels of precipitation in order for the spring and summer to reach their usual levels.”
An eye on the water table
Late precipitation also has the disadvantage of not creating a lasting accumulation of snow, and the experience of recent years has made it possible to verify that the conditions that were once observed from the end of August through month of September are now anticipated for the beginning of summer. Because of this, raising awareness among visitors to the mountains regarding the responsible use of water resources will be as important next summer as it was during the summer of 2022.
The CAI Alto Adige and the Alpenverein also confirmed this in recent weeks as reported in the newspaper Alto Adige: “The glaciers are becoming depleted; it’s not snowing, and it’s not raining”, emphasised Sergio Massenz, manager of the CAI Alto Adige mountain huts. “Water falling at higher elevations is not penetrating the ground, and it’s not reaching the springs. Downstream, where there is a larger catchment basin, all it takes is a little rain here or there, and you can accumulate a sufficient stock. But if a mountain hut is at or near the top, it stays dry when it doesn’t rain’.
The mountain hut managers in the UNESCO area are already gearing up on the awareness-raising front as well, with the continuation of the #mountainhutlife campaign which helps promote responsible visits to the mountains, and attracted some five million views on the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation’s social media channels last year. First and foremost in this responsibility is an awareness that water cannot be wasted at high elevations, and that some small sacrifices must be looked at as an opportunity for a more authentic alpine experience.