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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Henry Samuel

‘You’d have to be mad to deny global warming’ – ski resorts open biking trails as lack of snow sets off alarm bells

Skiers speed down a ski slope with artificial snow in the middle of a snowless field, at 1,600 metres above sea level, in the alpine resort of Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland. Photo: Laurent Gillieron/Keystone

Ski resorts across Europe are opening summer biking trails, “toboggans on rails”, zip-wire descents or go-karting in an attempt to retain customers because of a lack of snow.

Unseasonably mild temperatures have left half of France’s ski slopes closed, with the worst-hit being the lower-altitude resorts where rain and sleet have turned many slopes green.

In Austria, the resorts around Salzburg last had snow a month ago. In Switzerland, New Year temperatures hit a record 20C – the highest temperature ever recorded north of the Alps in January.

Next weekend’s ski World Cup at the Swiss resort of Adelboden is expected to go ahead – but only after artificial snow was used to help the Chuenisbargli piste gain official approval.

Until recently, it was assumed that the immediate problem lay with resorts lying less than 1,000 metres above sea level, where experts said skiing would likely become impossible as global temperatures rose.

But alarm bells are now ringing for ski resorts at 1,500m, which had previously been considered “snow safe”.

One, the Swiss resort of Splugen, has closed until further notice.

In France, only 50 of the country’s 250 ski resorts are “high altitude” (above 1,500m), according to Laurent Reynaud of Domaines skiables de France, which runs many resorts.

That prompted Le Figaro, a French newspaper, to ask yesterday: “Do mid-altitude resorts still have a future?”

Some ski resorts are already widening their offer.

In Switzerland, some places have even opened their summer biking trails rather than try to offer winter sports.

At Lac Blanc in Alsace, eastern France, where all the pistes are shut, Christophe Bergamini, Kaysersberg valley tourist office director, told BFMTV: “We’re lucky enough to be very close to a Christmas market, so people can visit Alsatian villages.”

He also directed potential visitors to the resort’s “toboggan on rails”, which doesn’t require snow to operate.

Mr Reynaud added: “Mid-mountain is better suited to summer tourism thanks to its more clement climate.”

Christian Mantei, president of Atout France, a national tourism body, added: “It’s ideal for hiking, open-air leisure activities and visiting villages.”​

Christine Masseur, head of la Compagnie des Pyrenees, which runs eight resorts between 1,500m and 2,000m, said: “Everyone is aware of the impact of climate change. We have to move towards something else.”

However, some resort managers prefer to plough on with skiing while the going is still good. Jean-Yves Remy, head of LaBelleMontagne, which runs resorts in the Vosges, the Alps and Italy’s Piedmont region, said: “You’d have to be mad to deny global warming. But as things stand, we are running profitable resorts.”

Others have set a time limit for transitioning to non-snow activities.

“We hope to hold out for as long as possible,” said Olivier Erard, head of the SMMO union that runs the Metabief domain in the Jura mountains.

For a ski resort to be viable, it needs to remain open for a minimum number of days each year.

“We are currently around the 95-day mark. When we hit 80, it will no longer be viable. That will happen sometime between now and 2040,” Mr Erard told Le Figaro.

“We know we have to transform our business model but we don’t yet know where we’re going. We have at least 10 years to find solutions.” 

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