Italy’s Ski Resorts Grapple With a Snowless Future

VWhen fellow skiers sent Amadeo Real photos of the muddy, grassy slopes at their ski resorts in France and Switzerland last week, he shuddered with sympathy but felt no foreboding. As president of the Historical Science Club 18 of Cortina d’Ampezzo, he is convinced that Italy’s best ski resort in the Dolomites is immune to the snowless disaster that will empty Europe’s main ski resorts during the winter holidays. After all, most resorts in Europe are located at an altitude of 900-1000 meters above sea level. Cortina d’Ampezzo starts at 1,600 meters (5,249 ft) and rises to 2,362 m (7,749 ft). Even if the lower slopes are a little wetter than the above-average temperatures like last week, there is always some manufactured snow. Cortina d’Ampezzo will host the women’s ski world championships this weekend, and Reale said the slopes are in perfect condition after five days of low temperatures and consistent efforts with snow guns.

Much depends on a stable snow cover. Cortina d’Ampezzo will host the Winter Olympics in February 2026, and Reale is sure to have plenty of snow (man-made or natural) and plenty of cold weather. But artificial snow is only a temporary solution, and at the same time it is expensive. Snow cannons only work at or below freezing temperatures. “The only thing we’re afraid of is a month or two of hot weather,” he said, which isn’t likely in the near future in the resort’s highlands.

Tourists take a chairlift to the top of Mount Miletto in San Massimo, Italy.  (Manuel Dorati)

Tourists take a chairlift to the top of Mount Miletto in San Massimo, Italy.

Manuel Dorati

Tourists eat lunch atop the snow-free mountain of Miletto in Italy.  (Manuel Dorati)

Tourists eat lunch atop the snow-free mountain of Miletto in Italy.

Manuel Dorati

However, during the winter holidays, most European resorts got a taste of a warmer future – the Swiss resort of Gstaad was flown in by helicopter from elsewhere in Switzerland when temperatures reached 20°C (68°) in early January. This is not the first time that European ski resorts have been without snow, but it is the first time since at least the 80s that snow cannons have not been able to make up for the shortage due to high temperatures. This brought the reality of a snowless winter to both resorts and skiers.

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Winter sports have become a major economic engine for mountain villages that depend on regular snow and for skiers who seek the snow every year, spending hundreds of dollars a day on lift fees, hotels, restaurants and equipment rentals. When there is no snow, there are no tourists and no income. Rolando Galli said his skiing business at the Italian Apennine resort of Abetone was down 2 million euros ($2.15 million) compared to this time last year due to a lack of snow this season. In total, he estimated 10 million euros ($10.7 million) in lost revenue from lodging, dining and shopping for the region.

Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing across most of Europe’s mountain regions this week, but the weather trajectory suggests that muddy ski slopes are a regular part of the future. Since pre-industrial times, temperatures in the region have increased by 2 degrees Celsius, compared to an average of 1.2 degrees Celsius. That doesn’t mean it won’t snow, but there could be an increase in periods of heavy snowfall through monsoons and even hotter days – extreme weather changes that contribute to climate change in the same way that average temperatures rise. . That doesn’t bode well for businesses like ski resorts that depend on reliable conditions.

Campitello Matese, a popular ski resort in central and southern Italy, is unable to support skiers this season due to high temperatures and lack of snow.  (Manuel Dorati)

Campitello Matese, a popular ski resort in central and southern Italy, is unable to support skiers this season due to high temperatures and lack of snow.

Manuel Dorati

Tourists eat lunch outside the Campitello Matese ski resort, which was closed to skiing and other winter sports, in early January 2023.  (Manuel Dorati)

Tourists eat lunch outside the Campitello Matese ski resort, which was closed to skiing and other winter sports, in early January 2023.

Manuel Dorati

There’s no way to make up for this year’s lost revenue, Galli said, even with snow all season long. He’s already diversified his business model by running lifts for hikers and vacationers in the summer, which helps, but there aren’t many options in the winter. He tried to operate the lift even though it didn’t snow this year, but many tourists didn’t want to endure the fog and rain any more than to look up their noses at the top of the mountain. “Climate change doesn’t mean warmer weather in December and better views at 1,500 meters above sea level,” he said. Until then, the only solution to save the industry is to use as much artificial snow as possible to help winter skiing. Resorts further south may not be able to bet on man-made snow in the coming years. The ubiquitous snow guns of Campitello Matese, one of the largest and most popular ski resorts in central and southern Italy, were paralyzed by high temperatures earlier this month. At least those who wanted to ski there could switch to regular summer activities like quad biking and horseback riding.

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Reale in Cortina d’Ampezzo says northern Italian resorts will be spared that fate, at least in the short term. “We all know that global warming is a serious thing, but I don’t think there will be any problems for the future of skiing in Cortina, especially with artificial snow.”

In the long run, it’s not so clear. 2022 study published in the journal Current problems in tourism, Few of the 21 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics since 1924, including Cortina d’Ampezzo, were predicted to be able to provide safe and fair competition by mid-century under current greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Cortina d’Ampezzo was rated only “marginal” for downward events by 2050, despite low emissions under the post-industrial Paris climate agreement targets; without reducing emissions, it is considered unacceptable. (Of all the previous hosts, only Japan’s Sapporo is considered a safe bet for either 2078 or 2082.)

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Last year, the International Olympic Committee announced that it would no longer name a host country for the 2030 Winter Olympics, and that it was considering rotating the Games between several hosts in response to the effects of climate change on winter sports. Last week, World Ski Championships organizers were forced to cancel this year’s men’s downhill and giant slalom events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, due to a lack of snow and a “weather forecast” for January 28-29. . date.

Snow-free Mount Miletto cannot even withstand artificial snow due to high temperatures.  (Manuel Dorati)

Snow-free Mount Miletto cannot even withstand artificial snow due to high temperatures.

Manuel Dorati

Italians are taking note. On January 12th, an Italian online newspaper shouted: “Put your holes in: there is no future for skiing, the tourism industry must accept it.” Linkiesta, A pessimistic study shows that skiing in the Dolomites will end by 2036, Marco Bussone, president of the Italian Association of Mountain Associations, told an Italian newspaper. Corriere Della Sera It was very important for winter sports venues to start investing in summer activities. We should think about what mountains [mean] Today in the context of climate change.”

No one has ruled out winter sports just yet, but it might be a good business strategy to make better choices for summer. In addition to operating lifts and mountain lodges in the summer, Galli, president of Abeton’s tourism board and a member of the National Ski Lift Association’s board of directors, suggests investing in pools for governments and mountain communities. In winter, they provide water to increase the use of snow cannons, and in summer they can be used as fishing, boating and tourist attractions. As they wait for another sign of climate change, they provide water to fight forest fires. “Climate change is something we have to deal with,” he said. “We can’t just put our heads down and ignore it.”

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