THE USE OF SALT ON THE PALMER SNOWFIELD
Here on Mount Hood, as is true at ski areas throughout the world, the practice of ensuring a fun and safe ski surface includes applying rock salt. The salt works by essentially melting the snow crystals at the very top of the ski surface, creating a slurry that quickly refreezes as a smoother, faster skiing surface. The snow almost instantly becomes less “grabby.” This provides more skiable surface conditions and increases safety, contributing to Timberlines reputation of being one of the world’s finest summer ski and snowboard programs, and an international summer destination.
As operators of Timberline, and stewards of this alpine environment, we recognize that the practice of salting raises environmental questions and concerns, and we want to address those concerns here.
Salt is applied to the Palmer Snowfield on nearly a daily basis from late May through approximately Labor Day. The practice of salting is a site-specific operational one. An effective monitoring plan, as well as an understanding of salt’s affect on the environment needs to carefully consider the area’s site-specific conditions including topography, weather, volume of snow, drainage, and levels of naturally occurring (background) sodium chloride in the streams and rivers below. It is important to keep in mind that rock salt (or halite) is a mineral which exists naturally. There are similar naturally occurring background levels of sodium within Mt. hood streams outside of the Palmer drainage system.
RLK and Company, operators of Timberline, has a pro-active science-based monitoring program for the salting. Golder and Associates, a geotechnical consulting firm based out of Redmond, Washington has been contracted since 1988 to oversee, analyze, and compile the data. The primary purpose of our comprehensive analysis is to account for the salt that we are introducing into the environment and study and evaluate any surface water impacts.
RLK and Company operates Timberline under the terms of a Special Use Permit from the United States Forest Service. The practice of applying salt to the hill is authorized under the terms of a 401 permit issued by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. We provide them with concise records of salt application. Surface water data is provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The monitoring program incorporates a continuous flow and conductivity study and utilizes water samples collected from 8 locations in several streams within the Palmer drainage.
The analysis confirms sodium chloride in the downstream waters. That is important in that it accounts for the salt, and indeed, monitoring stations show that summertime chloride levels increase during salting and return to normal background levels in the winter months. Chloride concentrations observed in all monitored streams, at all stations, regardless of elevation, are well below the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality drinking water standard of 250 mg/L and below the EPA water quality of 230 mg/L (chronic) and 860 mg/L (acute) for exposure to salt-sensitive species. It has been concluded that the practice of applying salt to Palmer Snowfield presents no threat to aquatic resources, aquatic biota, wildlife, or drinking water.