Snow report: climate change shrouds the future of skiing

Climate change is real, and it’s beginning to melt out ski seasons around the world

Les Deux Alpes, the destination of YuSnow's ski trip this year Image: Korz 19

YuSnow are heading to Les Deux Alpes this year, normally home to snow-sure slopes, but will they have snow this year? Image: Korz 19

When I heard that YUSnow’s 2015 Ski Trip was to Les Deux Alpes, it rekindled memories of snow-ploughing through perfect powder in glorious sunshine and taking in beautiful views of Mont Blanc. But in recent years rising global temperatures and unpredictable snowfalls have made skiing holidays hit-or-miss affairs, and it’s climate change that is responsible.

The human emissions of carbon dioxide and methane has increased drastically in the past century. These greenhouse gases collect in the Earth’s atmosphere, trapping the heat from the sun, and increasing the Earth’s temperature. The global average temperature has increased by 0.85°C in the past century, with the Alps seeing an increase of 2°C. The temperature difference may not seem like much, but 1.6 million square kilometres of snow cover has disappeared in the past 47 years. As temperatures continue to increase, this means there will be less snow, right? Not necessarily.

In October 2014, Buffalo, NY, experienced 5 feet of snowfall in just three days – during the same period European ski resorts basked in sunshine. Instead of less snow, what we are seeing is that the warming temperatures are causing more extreme, erratic weather. In ski resorts it is causing unpredictable snowfall: long periods of warm weather followed by huge dumps of snow. Unfortunately for Christmas skiers in Europe in 2014, it was famine rather than feast.

Climate change is not only affecting snowfall. According to NASA, 285 billion tonnes of land ice is being lost each year. Les Deux Alpes is home to Europe’s largest skiable glacier, rising to 3600 metres. It boasts beautiful views of the Alps, and allows year-round skiing, but its longevity is uncertain. Europe has lost around 50 percent of its glaciers in the past 15o years.

So what methods are ski resorts using to battle the lack of snow and rising temperatures? A 2010 study showed that 98 percent of European ski resorts now rely on artificial snow machines. But snow making is not cheap or environmentally sustainable, and ski resorts spend around £5 per cubic metre of artificial snow. Les Deux Alpes, which has 78 snow machines on the lower slopes, probably spends around £3 million per year. That’s a lot of ski passes! So is it worth spending all this money on blankets for your glaciers and snow machines for your beginners’ slopes?

The world ski industry is worth around £40 billion and is critical to regional economies. The US accounts for 21 percent of skier visits every year, but their ski economy is suffering due to poor snow quality in recent years. Between 1999 and 2010, American ski resorts had to cut 20,000 jobs and 15 million fewer visitors. This was due to a decrease of around five weeks in their ski seasons compared to fifty years ago, because of the lack of snow.
Les Deux Alpes continues to attract large numbers of enthusiastic skiers to its relatively snow-sure slopes.

With most runs open, good piste conditions, and plenty of snow forecast, the lucky individuals going on this year’s YUSnow ski trip should be basking in gorgeous sunshine and carving through perfect powder on their way down the mountain. Let’s hope we can be enjoying the same for generations to come.

One comment

  1. 8 Jul ’15 at 9:21 pm

    Mary L. Keller, Ph. D., Burke Mountain Academy 1982, Williams College 1987

    What if instead we hope that everyone of us who loves skiing will become effective activists who will not sleep until the transition to renewable energy is the ONLY option our governments can pursue.