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Europe’s bare ski slopes showing the ugly truth of climate change

In January of this year, I travelled across Europe in my partner and I’s campervan. We visited Chamonix in France to be surrounded by mountains and to ski. However, like elsewhere in Europe, the snow was sparse and melting by the day. Some ski runs were closed and there was a general feeling of worry amongst skiers that this season's record-high temperatures are just the start of the demise of winter sports because of the climate crisis.  

Winter holiday-goers in certain parts of Europe were deeply disappointed by the recorded snowfall and conditions of the ski runs. Unfortunately, the reduction in snowfall is a result of warming global climates. During the Christmas and New Year season a heat wave hit parts of Europe. Temperatures as high as 18.9 degrees Celsius were recorded in Warsaw. Previously the highest temperature recorded at this time was five degrees lower.  

With temperatures as high as 20.9 degrees Celsius in parts of Switzerland ski resorts have struggled to cope with the lack of snow. The heat wave across Europe has meant that ski resorts that are below 1300 metres have been particularly affected. However, this is not new. A report from the University of Innsbruck revealed that there have been similar trends happening in Switzerland since the 1980s. Now the reduction in snowfall is finally revealing its impact on the region. 

This has meant that to keep the ski runs open, snow cannons have been used to move snow onto the piste to ensure enough snow for the skiers. However, this has issues of its own. The snow cannons use a great amount of energy to run, furthering the damage to the environment.  

At the resorts that lay closer to sea level, it is believed that snow depth will continue to shrink by 3-4 centimetres every ten years. A 2017 study from the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research revealed that the Alps could lose up to 70% of their snow cover by 2100.  

After the heat wave, there was some snow, and with this came dangers of its own. If there is a significant amount of snow on top of wet slopes the risk of slab avalanches increases dramatically. With avalanche risk higher the ski resorts can become unsafe and deter people from coming.  

The warming climate in the Alps is not only affecting the experience for tourists but is also affecting the livelihood of those who live there. Ski resorts and mountainous regions are now unable to rely on skiing to ensure the survival of these towns. Towns are now also relying on summer activities such as mountain biking and trail running to bring tourists. However, as temperatures continue to rise summers may become too hot for such things. 

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Tags: #environment #climatechange #wintersports


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