AS THE MERCURY begins to rise in our own hemisphere, Euro summer is finally wrapping up. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens—usually anyway. For while the conclusion of Euro summer traditionally heralds the approach of the similarly alluring Euro winter, prompting another round of jet setting, that isn’t the case anymore.
Already making plans for another European getaway? You may need to reconsider. Popular ski resorts are now being run out of business by a lack of snow. Competition is fierce in the world of exclusive, high-altitude ski resorts, but it’s not competition from rival business that has forced French resort La Sambuy to close, it’s the harsh reality that dwindling snowfall is resulting in a financially unsustainable business model.
The town of La Sambuy, situated in the picturesque heights of the French Alps near Mont Blanc, has offered a series of pristine pistes and rolling runs to visitors since 2016. Due to reduced snowfall, the small town has seen its ski season reduced from a few months to only a few weeks in recent years. Now, the town’s council has made the decision to dismantle the resort’s ski lifts, closing the door on ski season forever.
“Before, we used to have snow practically from the first of December up until the 30th of March,” La Sambuy’s mayor, Jacques Dalex, said. That changed recently, and last winter that total was reduced to only “four weeks of snow, and even then, not much snow”. The drastic change made the business venture unsustainable, and Dalex said the resort was losing around 500,000 Euros ($828,000 AUD) annually. The decision to shut up shop was an obvious one.
Are other ski resorts closing?
La Sambuy is not the only ski resort closing, others have already followed suit and many more are facing a similar fate. According to one study, 53 per cent of European ski resorts are projected to be lacking snow if the average temperature rises 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels—they’re currently 1.2 degrees above that mark. If temperatures rose by 4 degrees, 98 per cent of resorts would be at risk, and we could kiss our dreams of learning to ski in the Alps goodbye.
Nearer to home, unmistakeably grassy slopes have become an all-too-common sight at popular Australian skiing destinations recently, even at the height of winter. Australia is not exempt from snow shortages, and Omar Elkadi, a spokesperson for climate advocacy group ‘Protect Our Winters’, told the ABC that 2023 was Australia’s worst year since 2006 in terms of snowfall.
Australian ski resorts depend on consistent snowfall, with reliable quantities laying the foundation and topping up any shortages. That consistency isn’t happening anymore. “If you look at the snowfall rates say 50 years ago, we used to get a lot more smaller top-ups, which built the base over time,” Elkadi said. “With climate change, what we’re starting to see is we aren’t getting those smaller top-ups in between, so you have these booms and busts.”
Can’t artificial snow just replace the real stuff?
Yes and no. There is an obvious solution to snow shortages, and that solution is artificial snow. After all, when Beijing hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics and snowfall was lower than expected, they simply relied on an artificial substitute instead. That would be the easiest short-term answer, but it would pose even greater long-term threats.
The production of artificial snow is already widespread and has helped the snow-sports industry stay afloat in the face of reduced snowfall, but it puts a strain on water and energy use, resulting in even greater carbon emissions. So, while artificial snow could keep the industry alive for a while longer, it will come at a cost, one that will be hard to reconcile when it’s so hot the thought of skiing seems ridiculous.
Why does any of this matter?
You may be thinking, ‘big deal, a handful of cashed-up tourists will have to find somewhere else to get pissed on a piste, so what?’ and that may well be a good enough reason to ignore the issues at hand. But in reality, reduced snowfall and ski resort closures are indicative of a far bigger problem, one that could eventually make the demise of skiing seem like a non-issue.
As you read this article, the climate crisis is worsening. Even if you’ve never been an avid skier, or even considered the possibility of trying your luck on a snowboard, the prospect of human-induced climate change altering our habits is a daunting possibility. While many of us try to live greener, and only a small percentage of the population is doing the real damage, clearly something needs to change. Shuttered ski resorts may be a sign of more serious issues to come.