Ski Resorts Seek Alternatives

Artificial Lake at roughly 2500m, Alps, France. Photo by: will_cyclist/Flickr
Artificial Lake at roughly 2500m, Alps, France. Photo by: will_cyclist/Flickr

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.


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].”

Val Thorens, France Photo by: Leo-seta/Flickr.
Val Thorens, France Photo by: Leo-seta/Flickr.

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.  

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.”

Roundup: Snowmaking Guns, Antarctic Ice, and Black Carbon

Ski Resort’s New Snowmaking Guns 

Describing a major ski resort in British Columbia, Canada: “De Jong says that after commercial operations end in July, four snowmaking guns and other infrastructure will be installed. It is expected to be used beginning in October. ‘If the pilot project is conclusive, this unique project will become a significant addition to Whistler Blackcomb’s list of adaptations to ensure long-term resilience against climate change,’ he said.”

Read here for more info.

Horstman Glacier
Horstman Glacier at Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort (Courtesy of Flickr user tyleringram)

Sudden and Rapid Ice Loss Discovered in Antarctica

“Several massive glaciers in the southern Antarctic Peninsula suddenly started to crumble in 2009, a new study reports today (May 21) in the journal Science. ‘Out of the blue, it’s become the second most important contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica,’ said lead study author Bert Wouters, a remote sensing expert and Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.”

Read here for more info.

Calving Antarctic Glacier

Study uses ice cores to estimate biomass burnings’ contributions to black carbon

Muztagh Ata
Muztagh Ata (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

“We analyzed refractory black carbon (rBC) in an ice core spanning 1875–2000 AD from Mt. Muztagh Ata, the Eastern Pamirs [of western China], using a Single Particle Soot Photometer (SP2)…. Mean rBC concentrations increased four-fold since the mid-1970s and reached maximum values at end of the 1980s. The observed decrease of the rBC concentrations during the 1990s was likely driven by the economic recession of former USSR countries in Central Asia. Levoglucosan concentrations showed a similar temporal trend to rBC concentrations, exhibiting a large increase around 1980 AD followed by a decrease in the 1990s that was likely due to a decrease in energy-related biomass combustion. The time evolution of levoglucosan/rBC ratios indicated stronger emissions from open fires during the 1940s–1950s, while the increase in rBC during the 1980s–1990s was caused from an increase in energy-related combustion of biomass and fossil fuels.”

Read here for more info.

SkiFree, a game from the past, has a message for the future

The 1990s game SkiFree was simple, until the yeti started chasing you.
The 1990s game SkiFree was simple, until the yeti started chasing you.

If you used a PC at any point in the ‘90s, you probably encountered the game SkiFree. To jog your memory, the 16-bit windows game featured a lone skier tirelessly trying to gain “style points” and avoid obstacles such as rocks, trees, snow bunnies and a man-eating yeti.

SkiFree, created by Microsoft programmer Chris Pirih in his free time, was recently revamped to reflect present-day concerns. Instead of a snow monster chasing you down the alpine slopes, you and the monster end up at the bottom of the mountain, submerged in water below the bottom of a melting glacier.


Countless hours could be spent in any of the original game’s three modes of play: slalom, tree slalom, and free-style. Skiing down the mountain you would lose points by running into trees, rock or yellow snow (yes, the crude humor reflects correctly on the overall tone of the game). Points could be gained by jumping over trees and rock, knocking over snow bunnies, and running over snowboarders. There were also moguls and snow banks for the very skilled virtual skier to catch some air on–all of this controlled from your keyboard number pad. The goal was to accumulate as many style points as possible before the abominable snow monster (or monsters if you were very good) caught up and gobbled you up! hosts a version of the game that you don’t have to download. This retro favorite was released in March of earlier this year. After clicking the link, you are immediately taken to a familiar screen in your browser window. Just after you have remembered how to maneuver and begin to pick up momentum the white slopes are interrupted with a gray cliff and then blue water. Next thing you know, you have joined the yeti bobbing up and down in the ocean.

Unlike the original, the version on features a more sobering ending than being eaten by a yeti.
Unlike the original, the version on features a more sobering ending than being eaten by a yeti.

The presence of glaciers has been seen in the virtual sphere before. The online world Second Life has an island with calving glaciers, and we previously mentioned the addictive phone app Glacier Rush [link here when published]. The new version of SkiFree blatantly offers a bit of a reality check to the nostalgic 20 to 50 year olds who popularized the game in the 1990s: “The snow monster is not a real thing. Climate change is.” The abrupt end of play and demonstration of how familiar landscapes we take for granted are changing was effective and direct.

Play the original here or check out the revised version reflecting our changing climate here. There is also a free version for the iPhone and iPad on Apple’s App Store.