Ted Shepherd, a climatologist at the University of Reading in the UK, knows what it’s like to arrive at a ski resort and find that the snow is somewhere else. This Christmas he went to Switzerland with his wife and her family. “She always loves to ski, but we couldn’t, really,” he says, recalling one resort where skiing was possible at high altitudes, but people queued for 45 minutes to take the cable car up to slopes or go down. again once they have finished their runs. “Things are getting worse and worse,” he says of the impact of climate change on skiing in Europe.
In the face of a warm winter season for the ski tourism industry, it’s time to take climate change seriously, says Rob Stewart of Ski Press, a PR firm. “This kind of unusual weather seems to happen more regularly,” he says, recalling climbing and walking on some glaciers 25 years ago that have since been hit by rising temperatures. “They’re not just melting—they’re gone,” he says.
And while he acknowledges that the skiing community in the past may have been “a bit out of his depth” about climate change, he argues that the situation has changed and that resorts have no choice but to adapt to the changing world in which they work. But given the need for optimal snowmaking conditions and the significant costs involved, relying on snow guns is not necessarily the right decision.
Shepherd notes that artificial snow requires not only energy intensity, but also a significant amount of water, a resource that expected to be less. In addition, there are huge costs to operate hundreds or even thousands of such machines. Despite the recent increase in energy prices in Europe, Stewart says the ski resorts he inquired about have not reported financial difficulties related to snowmaking. Klopat adds that Laax has been protected from a bill shock thanks to a long-term contract with the resort’s supplier, which fixes electricity rates until 2024. “We hope that when we have to buy in 2024, prices will come down.” He says.
However, other ski resorts cannot use Laax’s army of snow guns and therefore adapt in other ways. The Pays des Gexes in France’s Jura has been hit in recent weeks below 1,700 meters. Lacking whites, he instead offered travelers mountain biking, paragliding, pony rides, and two new activities—rail tobogganing and a massive zipline.
“I think this is the future of this mountain,” says Bruno Bourda, director of the tourism office, suggesting the resort will have to get used to offering a range of alternatives when skiing is not possible. He notes that Pays de Gex has machines for making snow, but the conditions are not always favorable for their use.
Another solution is to simply ski somewhere else. While the Alps have been tested for the past month or so, ski resorts in Norway, Japan and parts of North America have had very good snowfall, Stewart notes. In fact, some ski resorts that get especially cold this time of year may see more snow in the future, Shepard says. The optimal range for snowfall is between -10 and -1 degrees Celsius, and warmer weather could move new areas into this window. “You either go uphill to reach cooler temperatures, or you move north,” Shepherd says.
Signs that skiing is changing can be seen everywhere you look. Shepherd suggests that even frequent flying and conspicuous consumption, which – rightly or wrongly – were stereotyped pastimes, may disappear as the industry seeks to remain culturally acceptable in the Anthropocene. It could mean a new look at nature and how we enjoy it.
And ski resorts, no matter how deep their pockets or the size of their snow cannons, can’t hold back the tides. As Shepard says, “Just trying to fight the weather, I think, is going to be a losing battle.”