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'Bubble wrap' could boost' skiing says UHI professor

image captionProf John McClatchey says a type of bubble plastic would protect snow

A scientist has suggested covering snow in 'bubble wrap' to help prolong the ski season in Scotland.

Prof John McClatchey said it would slow down the melting of snow by protecting it against rain and sunshine.

Marian Austin, of the Nevis Range ski resort in Lochaber, said the method could be useful in leaner seasons.

Prof McClatchey has carried out experiments in the Cairngorms using a bubble plastic used to cover outdoor swimming pools.

He said weak points on a piste - where the snow melts quicker than on the rest of the slope - could be protected to prolong its use.

Similar methods have been tested in the Alps and North America.

However, Prof McClatchey said it could work better in Scotland because of a lack of sunshine to warm up the plastic.

The climatologist at the new University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) has been investigating a decline in ski days in Scotland over the past 30 years as part of wider research into climate change.

He told BBC Radio Scotland: "What's clear is there has been a steady decline, though very variable year to year, but the decline over time is about two days a year for the Cairngorms ski area.

"Over the five days I looked at half a metre of snow was lost from the snow pack."

Prof McClatchey added: "I experimented with a series of covers for the snow using bubble plastic used to over outdoor swimming pools.

"I used single coverings, double coverings and ones painted silver to increase the reflectivity of the material."

He said on areas covered in just clear plastic it had the effect of reducing melting caused by rain, wind and warmer temperatures.

Ms Austin said the ski industry would welcome help in preserving snow.

She said: "The idea of doing it with bubble wrap is new.

"We have had a student here previously who looked at all sorts of different materials for holding on to the snow and it definitely seems to help if you cover the snow.

"Our one worry would be that the wind would move the bubble wrap so there would need to be a method for keeping it in place."

Heavy snow

In June 2010, more than 100 skiers took advantage of ski tows being open at the Cairngorm Mountain resort for the first time in midsummer.

Last year's season benefited from long periods of heavy snow and freezing temperatures.

Similar conditions have also helped the latest ski season.

However, the winter of 2006-07 was a bad one for Scottish ski resorts.

By March 2007, centres said they had suffered one of their worst seasons of recent years.

A lack of snow and high winds were blamed for keeping skiers and snowboarders off the slopes.

Inverness-based Prof McClatchey is a professor of climatology at UHI's Environmental Research Institute in Thurso.

Previously, he was a director at Shetland College and a professor of climatology at Northampton University.

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