How ski resorts are adapting to climate change and lack of snow
The season began at Christmas, under clear snow; he almost took his shoes off before the mild temperatures in early January. The rain that followed created general spirits. “It’s greener than white, I’m sick of it”flew seasonally.
A week ago, the relief, a few tens of centimeters of fresh snow loosened the loop and revived the soft crunches of the chairs. The cold has allowed even snowballs to wake up.
Stop burying us, we’re in the middle of the season!
The Southern Alps, the winter destination of 14% of skiers in France, are torn between the week’s weather forecast and the climate change of the century. Or a decade.
“Stop bombarding us with the lack of snow, we shout at a mid-altitude resort. Snow remains the flagship product that attracts the most. We have good attendance and good satisfaction during the Christmas holidays. We’re still in the middle of the season!”
Harder landing “Rediscover yourself without forgetting winter”.
Within a generation, the snow cover has shrunk considerably. According to the scientific community, the snow season is getting shorter and this will continue in the future. A 2° warming at low altitude will make snow 40% cheaper. At mid-elevation, in the Southern Alps, there has been a loss of about a month of snow cover since the 1970s.
Especially at the end of the season
“There is high variability from year to year, warns Antoine Nicault, coordinator of the South Greece group of experts at the regional level on the evolution of the climate. But the trend is in the direction of decreasing the amount of snow on the ground. At the end of the season, the decrease in maximum snow thickness is especially noted. In March and April.”
Depending on where you are in the mountains, the results show significant changes. “The height of the hinge is between 1000-2000 metersthe scientist gives detailed information. At Mercantour, we would lose 42% of the snow cover at 1200 meters with 2° warming. Higher, at 2700 meters, this loss would be 20%.
Despite the context, some still hope to save time. “This year is an unusual year”, considers the mayor of Rubio in the Tinée valley, which is 10° in early January. The small ski area has gone yoyo. Closed, then opened and even “with free packages” A mid-January weekend to mark the return of snow and cold.
“Scientists say that the snow model is over, that’s allMayor Philip Bruno continues. But the elders remind us that the snow cover used to fail from time to time.” A skeptic? It’s not so much the trajectory, but the speed of climate change, that the elected official wondered aloud.
“Here we have been thinking about summer diversification for 15 yearshe argues. Climbing, ferrata, canyoning, today an electric mountain bike.” Understand, we did not waste time.
The backbone of the domain
In 2019, the Buisses lift was renovated and its capacity even doubled, costing 3.5 million euros, financed by subsidies. “True, we asked ourselves: should we replace him? the mayor answers. But we thought about this equipment within the framework of 4 seasons. That’s what we did. This opens up great potential at altitude.”
Downhill cycling, hiking (with a sea view!) or even an archaeological visit: the discovery of a Gallic sanctuary from the Iron Age opens up the prospect of a structuring cultural proposal for Roubion.
“This chair is the backbone of the area”Describe the services of the administration, a society that financially supports the choice of elected officials.
There is a conclusion: structural investments are far from leaving the ski side of the mountain.
Charles-Ange Ginesy, president of the Alpes-Maritimes departmental council, thinks: “Yes, it’s an economy that you have to know how to protect so that those living under the snow can continue.”
“We don’t know how to do without this model”
By 2050, however, the Department expects that two to five years will be difficult due to a lack of snow. “This is a transformation that will happen slowly, continues the selected. First, because winter sports, which represent a significant turnover, we cannot do without the resort model, and the success we have experienced this winter proves that snow remains a very attractive vector. Then, it helps to amortize the investments started. This cannot be a spark that overturns us overnight.”
Other southern resorts, Gréolières and L’Audibergue highlight them “enduring spirit”. “We don’t want to be in the concept of mass tourism, but we want to focus on sports, outdoor activities, awareness of the natural environment, Liaison Officer Damien Matteoli responds. Every euro invested should be used for 4 seasons, this is the rule now.”
Already in the winter season, 75% of the activities offered at the resort “can do without snow”, he assures. For the rest, we adapt. If necessary, “a ski tour becomes a tour, a biathlon becomes a trail run”.
Seasonal workers hit “full force”.
Because on the alpine slopes, snow remains the best provider of employment. The skiing ecosystem deserves the nickname “white gold”.
According to the calculations of the Alpes-Maritimes departmental council, “For every €1 invested in ski areas, €6 goes directly back into the local economy”. This one to six ratio is a very difficult ratio to match. “We can’t replicate that rate in summer activities yet.”
It is estimated that 2,000 jobs are directly created by ski areas in winter. This is the case of Emmanuelle Poulain, who has been wintering at the resort of Gréolières for 15 years. “Today, seasonal workers are under a heavy blowhe testifies. “When the tracks are closed, there are smaller teams.”
We used to say that we dope ourselves with white.
When he comes to Mercantour to grow saffron in Cipières, he is concerned about the general climate evolution. “There is little snow in winter. Water management is complicated in summer. This makes us realize that we are leaning against the wall.”
It also diversifies its activity with an outdoor farm pub in the summer. But it’s hard to compensate. In winter, snow brings laughter to the resort, “We used to say white doping.”
Adaptation or provision?
In this regard, “Artificial snow may provide protection for a few years, but it is not an adaptation, scientist Antoine Nico continues. It’s about providing more economic activity. That shouldn’t stop me from thinking about adaptation, in my opinion.”
There is also less snow “It has a strong impact on water resources because it affects the resources that will feed the rivers in the spring and summer.”. The faster the snow melts, the longer the downflow period will be. “The flow will decrease at the beginning of the season”. And not only the mountain, but the whole coast, downstream.
Mercantour park, “complementary”
600,000 visitors to the mountains, mainly in the summer months, Mercantour National Park already “protected space, attraction factor”based on the model a “nature observation and discovery tourism”.
Its director, Aline Comeau, reviews the park “ski tourism complements the offer and the same strength of the offer”thanks to the experience of another type of customer. “Our mission is to interest people with a number of activities. In other words, to preserve natural heritage and increase it.”
This ecotourism offer may be available in winter, “like we already did in the summer”. For the future of the mountain, Aline Comeau clearly stands out “two deadlines, one short-term, one medium-term”. Upgrading alpine equipment, which requires large investments, does not prevent the need “Creating a model in 20-30 years. The best prepared are the earliest. We are ready to do this with communities”.