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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

Skiing Peaks: Analysis of pollution in popular winter resorts in Europe

  • Altitude: The air quality in high-altitude places is much better compared to cities located lower.

  • Bad air: Innsbruck (Austria) had 18 episodes with PM10 level above the norm during the ski season.

  • Best air: The best air quality is recorded in Oberjoch (Germany), where the averaged PM10 during the investigated period is equal to 3.6 μg/m3 thanks to its mountain side location

  • US vs Europe: Among two analyzed resorts in the U.S - Beaver Creek and Avon in Colorado the air quality in both places is very good.

As the skiing season reaches its peak, scientists at cleantech Airly analysed the air quality at popular destinations in Europe, which have air pollution monitoring stations between December 2021 and February 2022. The resorts were compared to each other in terms of PM10 which is the most common type of air pollution measured. The findings will help prepare visitors for travel and local municipalities to learn more about air pollution levels.

Overall, air pollution in alpine resorts occasionally exceeds the levels of PM10 that are safe for health. However, more generally throughout the year air pollution is at or below safe levels. Similar levels of pollution were recorded in popular ski resorts in Central Europe. In this region, the worst offenders were ski resorts in Poland and Romania, located at lower altitudes. Here a large role in the accumulation of PM10 pollution is played by such emissions from houses as a result of heating using coal.

Germany tops the table for good air

The best air quality is recorded in Oberjoch (Germany) , where the averaged PM10 during the investigated period is equal to 3.6 μg/m3 thanks to its mountain side location. The level of PM10 is very much similar in Chamonix (France) and Bolzano (Italy) averaging the values of 19.7 μg/m3 and 19.6 μg/m3 , respectively.

Dangerous pollution episodes recorded in Alpine winter resorts

The data from Alpine winter resorts show that Innsbruck in Austria had 9 phases (of 12 hours each) with PM10 levels above the norm and half of these episodes showed concentration levels of over 50 μg/m3 (with two cases over 100). New Year's Eve fireworks and land relief (no place to wind off the pollution) are likely reasons for the spikes. However, even though the air pollution in Innsbruck exceeds the norm on several occasions, the average value of PM10 in this resort (27.3 μg/m3) is below the safe WHO norm.

All three top polluted resorts are located in deep valleys between high peaks and are hubs (service, production, transport) servicing ski lifts around them which can describe levels of pollution. PM10 concentration of popular Western Europe winter destinations

Central Europe: less coal use and higher altitude bring hope for cleaner air The Airly analysis concluded that air quality in high-altitude places is much better than the one in the cities located lower.

The lowest average PM10 level is recorded in Stará Lesná (Slovakia) reaching 8.6 μg/m3. However, the highest air pollution was recorded in two Polish hotspots for skiing, Kowaniec and Rzyki. Here the averaged level of PM10 concentration is equal to 52.5 μg/m3 and 48.8 μg/m3, respectively - exceeding the norm in both places. Notably, there was one period with very high air pollution in Kowaniec in the final days of 2021. The averaged PM10 equaled 200 μg/m3 in this period. The high concentrations of PM10 observed in resorts in Poland are directly linked to the use of coal combustion for heating in Polish villages.

The Airly analysis establishes the link between air pollution in valleys and mountains, that it is chiefly lower based on both atmospheric conditions and population density.

PM10 concentrations in Central European winter resorts: High altitude places

PM10 concentrations in Central European winter resorts: Low altitude places

USA: very good air quality in winter resorts of Colorado Airly examined two popular resorts in the US for the purpose of comparison to Europe, namely Beaver Creek and Avon in Colorado, and reported the air quality to be very good in both. There are a few spikes of PM10 but they are not dangerous. The peaks result from the heating period during the day / night. Colorado (USA) Winter resorts

Marcin Gnat, spokesperson at Airly, commented: “We are aware that this analysis is not a complete description of pollution in the European winter & ski destinations and no one should make rankings out of it or point to these cities as most polluted as they are a handful the that measure air pollution, which is a big plus. There are hundreds of resorts that we have no intelligence on”. “If we could give some tips to the ski & clean air lovers, we would recommend them not to choose deep and densely urbanized valleys, and instead think of more rural places on higher altitude.”


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