What’s the future for low-altitude ski resorts as global temperatures rise?

Is there still life at low altitude?

Definitely, if you choose wisely. Look for eco-friendly resorts that offer a wide variety of activities (including non-snow related). And remember, altitude isn’t always a direct indicator of snowfall.

“Height is always relative,” says Janine Graf, Public Relations Manager for SkiWelt, one of Austria’s largest interconnected ski areas in the shadow of the Wilder Kaiser. “Our ski area is traditionally located on Alpine meadows, which are tended by farmers during the summer as always. Therefore, we do not need as much snow as the high-altitude ski areas established on rocky terrain.”

Those struggling to maintain snow cover are adept at reinventing, and diversifying activities is proving their saving grace. Many are abandoning the ski-only model, rebranding as spas and year-round mountain resorts with low-impact activities from hiking to biking, tobogganing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing. Hotels and chalets follow.

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“We are moving towards a four-season tourism model,” says Al Judge, co-founder and co-owner of AliKats, a 12 ultra-sustainable luxury chalet in Morzine in the French Alps that uses 100% renewable energy. “Our goal is to diversify our revenue streams so that we are less dependent on profits and to create offerings that allow people to enjoy the mountains year-round.”

The road to sustainability

The message is clear: low-altitude resorts need to be greener if they are to make their way up this slippery slope. The downhill excitement is all well and good, but nature is what really matters.

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“Sustainability has always played an important role at SkiWelt,” says Janine Graf. “For over 20 years the entire ski area has been running on 100% green electricity supplied by the Tyrolean hydroelectric. In 2008 we built the world’s first solar powered elevator. We also use the return heat from our mountain railways to heat the restaurants. From the beginning, nothing but pure drinking water was used to make snow. And as the snow melts at the end of winter, the water returns to the flora and fauna.”

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Tips for finding snow

Mid-season skiing: For the best chance of snow, visit during the coldest months (January and February).

Choose from a variety of activities: Resorts with lots of low-impact activities will offer a new appreciation for the mountains, with lots to keep you entertained on snowless days.

Ski elsewhere: altitude isn’t everything — latitude also plays a role. Expand your network. Many low-lying resorts in Arctic Sweden, Finland, and Norway, for example, have excellent snow – and reindeer and Northern Lights are a bargain.

Posted in Winter Sports 2022/23 guide distributed with December 2022 issue National Geographic Explorer (UK)

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