As snow rapidly disappears from high mountains, ski and winter sport resorts are looking for alternatives to keep their struggling businesses alive.
The world’s skiing industry is worth $60 to $70 billion, some estimates say. About 44 percent of ski-related travel is in the alps, while 21 percent is in the United States.
In just 30 years, ski resorts in the Alps have seen 30 percent less snow, according to regional authorities. At the same time, temperatures have risen by 1.6 degrees Celsius since the 1960’s and glaciers in the region have lost 26 percent of their surface.
For professional skiers, who train on glaciers, this could be bad news. If temperatures rise to 2 or 3 degrees higher, glaciers below 3,000 mertres will melt away, experts from the Hydrology Transfer and Environment Research Laboratory in Grenoble say.
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Already, Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe in Savoie, France, has closed off its glacier to skiers. But the resort continues to trigger avalanches on the glacier to replenish its slopes below, depleting its glacier. “Before we trained at a very low elevation, around 2,400 meters, even in July,” French Ski champion Fabienne Serrat, who won two golds medals at the World Championships in 1974, told AFP. “Today many youths who compete go to South America [to train].”
Instead, resorts are investing in dog sledding, snowshoeing and sledding to keep tourists coming. Franck Vernay, first deputy mayor of Biot, a small village in Haute-Savoie, in the Rhône-Alpes region, said the ski season in his commune has been closed for three seasons because no profits were being made. “We haven’t given up on skiing but we’ve got to try to lure people in other ways. Otherwise its certain death,” he added.
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In other parts of the world, like California, ski resorts are looking into other high mountain sports, like biking and rafting. Ski seasons have been shortened, so many resorts are now open year-round so they can stay afloat. They are also developing ropes courses, zip lines and disk golf.
“It’s not just the tourists going to ski or mountain-bike in these elite destinations, but there are also entire communities relying on hotel jobs, rafting jobs, working at a ski lift,” Diana Madson, executive director of Mountain Pact, an organisation that empowers mountain communities, told the Los Angeles Times. “There are a lot of people who are vulnerable to these impacts.”