Climate change: Snow level dips, ski resorts struggling

After initial hopes for abundant snowfall in certain European regions this fall, the familiar trend of recent years resumed, with rain and sleet dominating the weather. In French Alps ski resorts like Morzine and Les Gets, heavy rainfall caused a delay in full resort openings until just two days before Christmas, raising concerns for an industry valued at $30 billion (£23.8 billion).

Scientific evidence, presented in peer-reviewed reports, indicates an existential threat to Alpine skiing due to climate change. A recent study warned that with a 2°C rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels, 53% of examined European resorts would be at a very high risk of insufficient snow. This risk increases to 98% if the world experiences a 4°C temperature increase. Another study revealed an “unprecedented” decline in snow cover duration in the Alps over the past 600 years.

Efforts to address climate change impacts on skiing have been met with frustration within the skiing community. The International Ski Federation (FIS) faced criticism for its perceived lack of action, with athletes and activists calling for greater climate awareness. The FIS has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 but faces calls for more transparency regarding its environmental impact.

As the ski industry grapples with the changing climate, some are advocating for a shift toward sustainability and adaptation. Environmental groups like Montagne Verte in Morzine are promoting a move to low-carbon alternatives and envisioning a future beyond skiing. Their focus includes year-round tourism, reducing emissions from travel and accommodation, and encouraging car-free resorts.

While the ski industry is under pressure to adapt, some businesses are proactively preparing for a future with less snow. Initiatives include promoting alternative seasons, such as spring and autumn holidays, and exploring non-skiing activities like mountain biking, climbing, and walking. The broader challenge is to ensure a thriving, year-round economy in Alpine regions, considering both environmental sustainability and economic viability in the face of changing climate conditions.

Cécile Burton, the general manager of Montagne Verte, emphasized the urgency of adapting to the changing climate in the Alps. With temperatures rising at twice the global average, the traditional reliance on winter sports is becoming increasingly untenable. Montagne Verte’s approach involves diversifying the offerings in the valley, focusing on four-season tourism, and creating a sustainable living environment throughout the year.

The organization collaborates with local politicians and businesses to advocate for policies that reduce emissions, with a specific emphasis on transitioning resorts to be car-free. By addressing emissions from tourist flights, car travel within resorts, and energy consumption in accommodations, Montagne Verte aims to create a more environmentally friendly Alpine experience. They have successfully engaged businesses in an Alpine express pass program, providing incentives for those traveling to their holiday destination by train.

Al Judge, president of the luxury chalet holiday company AliKats, is among those adjusting their business strategies to prepare for a future with less snow. Recognizing the importance of adapting to changing seasons, AliKats is working to shift the focus away from winter skiing. Summer has become their second most significant season, and efforts are underway to promote spring and autumn holidays, aiming for a four-season, year-round business model.

The shift in focus from a solely winter-centric approach to a more diverse, year-round strategy reflects a broader acknowledgment within the industry that adaptation is necessary for long-term survival. As climate change poses challenges to traditional skiing, initiatives that prioritize sustainability, environmental responsibility, and diversified offerings become crucial for the Alpine regions to thrive beyond the constraints of a diminishing winter sports landscape.

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