Vassiljev P., Palo, T., Kull, A., Külvik, M., Bell, S., Kull, An. and Mander, Ü. 2010. Forest Landscape Assessment for Cross Country Skiing in Declining Snow Conditions: the Case of Haanja Upland, Estonia.  Baltic Forestry 16 (2): 280 - 295

Snow cover is an important climatic characteristic as well as a significant recreational attraction of Estonian winter landscapes. In Estonia, over the last decade, the intensity of various forms of winter recreation has significantly increased. However, due to climate change the variability of snow cover is increasing year by year. Variations in snow cover are more significant in lowland areas while uplands retain more stable conditions. In order to identify suitable areas for developing cross-country ski-tracks likely to retain stable snow cover in what are also psychologically restorative natural environments, an integrated approach for landscape assessment has been developed. Micro- and meso-scale (1:10 000) studies of snow cover and climate in a highly diverse landscape were combined with an evaluation of the restorativeness of natural environments. Integrating snow cover investigations with questionnaire-based restorativeness analysis showed that forest edges have a higher value for both restorativeness and favourable snow conditions. Edge zones of forests provide inward and outward views, which were often considered more restorative by respondents. Thus, the routing of ski tracks towards the forest edge zone would tend to increase the restorativeness as well as giving a longer period of optimal skiing performance. Taking the micro-climatic conditions into account when planning the layout of cross-country ski-routes is likely to ensure the most efficient use of natural snow cover and higher quality ski tracks with lower maintenance costs. This also provides more opportunities for small-scale and family-run tourism enterprises, thus indirectly supporting the management of cultural landscapes for sustainable development.

Key words: GIS-based modelling, landscape assessment, forest landscape management, SRRS, psychological restoration, snow cover, winter recreation, cross-country skiing.