Since the late 19th century the Earth has warmed around 1.1°C, bearing significant consequences for ski resorts globally. Whilst some at higher altitudes have been virtually unaffected by the increasingly warm climate, others have suffered considerably, most notably due to the decreased amount of snow and increased amount of rain. As a result, several knock-on effects have occurred, including shorter ski seasons, increased operational costs, and reduced tourism-related revenue. The ski industry, with a market size of $4.28 billion in 2022, is becoming evermore unreliable, which seriously impacts economies on an international scale. 

The profound result of decreasing amounts of snow is felt especially by lower and middle altitude resorts: alas, this has been a very much global phenomenon. More than half of Europe’s resorts are at ‘high risk’ of snow scarcity by 2100. The Rockies are warming twice as fast as the global average, and the Andes have lost over 50% of snow coverage since the 1960s. This rising threat has forced ski resorts to rely increasingly on artificial snow to keep the ski slopes open, or suffer the consequences of a reduced number of days of skiing or snowboarding. ESPN estimates that resorts can spend anywhere between $1000-$2000 to cover one acre with 12 inches of artificial snow, creating a huge expense to cover a whole resort. Increased operational costs result in lower profit margins. At the same time, some higher altitude resorts are attracting more customers, as they experience less rain and more snowfall.

As a result of rising amounts of rainfall and reduced snowfall, shorter ski seasons are taking place. With snow arriving later and Spring coming earlier, it is reported that snow depth has on average reduced 10% since the 1970s. This has led to ski seasons being shortened by approximately a month, reducing the yearly volume of tourists resorts can handle; not to mention deterrence from visiting at all. A reduced number of skiing days decreases the revenue earned from selling lift tickets and ski passes, which make up 45% to 48% of a ski resort’s revenue. A month’s loss in revenue can be devastating, even leading to resorts having to close down. A perfect illustration of this is the ‘La Sambuy’ ski resort in the French Alps, which has permanently closed after only managing to open 4 weeks in the 2022/2023 season. By the time it closed, the resort was losing about $500,000 annually.[HP5] 

Additionally, the climate crisis is having a significant effect on glaciers, causing them to melt and retreat. For example, the ‘Grand Mott’ glacier in Tignes has lost 50% of its surface area since the 1980s. This can cause terrain to become unstable, posing a threat to infrastructure like lifts and buildings, and forcing some ski pistes to be shut off. Glaciers also make valuable tourist attraction, but as they retreat, they become smaller and more dangerous, meaning fewer tourists are willing or able to visit them. That 92% of glaciers in the Alps are expected to disappear by the end of the century will force many resorts to suffer.

Local businesses are also enduring much hardship from the decline of the ski industry. Ski resorts are major employers in their local communities, providing jobs from ski instructors to waiters – both seasonally and all year round. If ski resorts struggle, local communities suffer from lay-offs and wage cuts. Meanwhile, the once thriving real estate market in areas such as Park City, Utah, and lower-altitude European resorts is now facing uncertainty due to doubts about the long-term viability of skiing. While the ski property index has experienced strong 5.8% annual thanks to a decade of low-interest rates which encourage borrowing, rising mortgage costs and energy prices may reduce property values in the coming years. This combination of factors could lead to a depreciation in the value of much real estate. Lastly, ski resorts are facing scrutiny for their environmental impact. Criticisms have ranged from excessive water use required for artificial snow to the use of snow cannons which are incredibly energy-intensive and run on polluting fossil fuels; however, investing in more sustainable practices generally increases operational costs, decreasing a ski resort’s profit. A balance must be struck, and, sadly, ski resorts tend not to value the environmental consideration significantly.

Ski resorts are experiencing rapid change – and indeed polarisation – with some higher-altitude resorts excelling while others are seriously struggling. Going forward many might look to diversify into becoming year-round resorts, with activities such as hiking or mountain biking in the warmer months. An example is the ‘Whistler’ resort in Canada which is already making more in the Summer than in Winter. With global warming set to remove 50% to 90% of snow cover by 2100, ski resorts will have to adapt – or face the ramifications. 


Bibliography:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/05/snow-sonnblick-austrian-alps-worlds-highest-observatory-melting

https://creamontblanc.org/en/climate-change-and-its-impacts-alps

https://www.carbonbrief.org/recent-alps-snow-cover-decline-unprecedented-in-past-600-years

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20230124-how-climate-change-threatens-to-close-ski-resorts

https://theweek.com/news/sport/959422/climate-change-alps-end-of-skiing

https://www.skiingproperty.com/tourism-in-val-disere/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1175408/ski-snowboard-resorts-employment/

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