Doom and gloom for low-altitude ski resorts

Snow in Europe's low-altitude ski resorts will become a rare event according to recent research. Bare Alpine slopes could be a much more common sight in the future. The poor snow cover below 1500m of snow-scarce winters, like we have seen the last few years, can be expected to be the norm rather than the exception. Towards the middle of the century there will only be a few days with snow at low elevations and winter sports could potentially be forced to begin up to a month later than they do today. Moreover the snow duration at 2000 m decreases by 2 weeks in 2035 and by 11 weeks in 2085. The most affected elevation zone for climate change is located below 1200 meters where the simulations show almost no continuous snow cover towards the end of the century.

Climate change forms a substantial threat to the ski holiday industry in 56%* of the ski villages in the Alps by 2035. Allready a third* of the current ski resorts is struggling with low snow reliabillity. Worst case scenario means that only 15%* of today's ski resorts are economically viable for skiing towards the end of the century according to

Dolomites in dec 2016

If nothing is done to improve the current climate change situation, Europe's mountains could lose as much as 70 per cent of their snow cover by the end of the century. And even if we manage to keep global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels – as agreed at the 2015 international climate change conference in Paris – 30 percent of the snow will melt away. Ski resorts at higher altitudes could also see huge reductions in snow if the global warming limit isn't observed. Above 3,000 meters, snow depth could decrease by some 40 percent. If we don’t cut emissions enough snow for winter sports can only be guaranteed above 2500 m by the end of the century. Most climate models predict increased winter precipitation due to global warming, but with temperatures rising too, this is likely to be in the form of rain rather than snow.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) and the École Polytechnique Fédérale (EPFL) Lausanne, comes after a third successive poor start to the season as many ski resorts struggled with poor natural snow cover well into the New Year. The researchers predicts that the amount and duration of snow cover in the Alps will have significantly shrunk by the year 2100, even in the best-case climate scenarios. The clear decrease in future snow depth and a shorter snow season will negatively affects society : “Since many Alpine villages are heavily dependent on winter tourism, the economy and society of regions with such tourism centres will suffer” according to the researchers.

However, the magnitude of the snow cover depth and snow duration decrease can be heavily reduced with human intervention. If global warming can be kept below 2 degrees the figures are not so stark with the likely loss of snow cover limited to 30 rather than 70 per cent. "The fact that we lose 30 percent of Alpine snow cover with the 2 degrees Celsius global warming scenario is sad, but at the same time encouraging compared to the 70 percent," said study co-author Christoph Marty of the SLF.

The 2 degrees Celsius goal is the mainstay of the Paris Agreement to curb warming by limiting emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas but many governments are very slow to implement the necessary measures.

Global warming is happening, and not only is it happening, we’re observing many changes happening. What we’re seeing this year is really exactly what both the theoretical understanding and the climate model projections show for a warmer Alps.

*) Additional research by
Written by skiweather on Thursday June 8, 2017

Category: snowreport

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