Skiing And Climate Change

The 2006/7 winter season was the warmest since 1950 with, according to Météo France, average temperatures 2.1 degrees higher than the seasonal normal. This makes 2006/7 one of the hottest winters in France since 1950 including those of 1989/90 and 1974/75 both of which had temperatures of two degrees above the seasonal norm. This has meant that rain/snow limits have been higher this year than most winters, generally hovering around 1300m in February, but as high as 2000-2500 at the start of the season. As a result of this resorts situated below 1500m suffered with little snow cover on the lower slopes and the impossibility of making artificial snow, as temperatures were too high, resulting in many resorts having less than half their normal snow base on their lower slopes in February – although this situation was rectified in March with above average precipitation than normal.

The British media certainly painted a bleak picture of the snow conditions in the alps. However, reports of the death of the European ski industry were greatly over exaggerated and, although the season started off badly, it improved at altitude with ski areas above 1800m enjoying good skiing conditions. But due to the entrenched public belief that there was no snow in the alps many skiers have stayed at home.

With the threat of global warming turning into a reality the chances are that we?ll see a repeat of this seasons uneven snow distribution in the future. The problem, therefore, is one of altitude. Precipitation levels were no lower than average, it’s just that any snow that fell on lower lying slopes was frequently washed away by the rain which followed.

So what does this mean for the future of skiing? Many ski areas below 1500m will not be able to survive, or will have to diversify; so either those at high altitude such as Val Thorens, Chamonix or Zermatt, or the super domains such as The Three Valleys or The Portes du Soleil will survive. Skiers will more and more have to take advantage of the prevailing conditions which poses additional problems for big resorts who take on their staff for fixed contracts. Perhaps more people will take up cross country skiing and ski mountaineering, and sales in snow shoes are increasing.