(CNN) – Christine Harrison has been visiting Le Praz De Lys-Sommand, a small ski resort in the French Alps, for the past 20 years. The view of her from her chalet window has always been more or less the same: a wide expanse of mountains, hills, and chalets, all covered in thick, foaming snow.
But this year, the landscape is barren. The skis have been put away. Many of Harrison’s potential fellow skiers have gone home.
In France, the average aggregate temperature on the last day of 2022 was more than 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the daily reference temperature for 1991-2020, according to Météo-France, the French national weather service.
Ski resorts in the Alps, particularly those in the lower regions, have temporarily closed their slopes as this hot weather, combined with torrential rains, washes away the December snow.
Harrison and his partner, who are from the UK, were aware of the lack of snow at Le Praz De Lys before they arrived. They decided to go anyway, arriving at the end of December mainly to check out their chalet: they had heard that the cave-in had caused flooding in the basement.
Now, instead of spending his days on the slopes, Harrison has been watching the wildlife buzzing on his balcony. The birds, he suggests, seem equally confused by the spring conditions.
“I’m not normally feeding blue tits croissants on January 3 in the French Alps,” says Harrison.
The photo on the left was taken by Christine Harrison at Le Praz De Lys in January 2018. This is the same view five years later.
Laurent Reynaud, managing director of Domaines Skiables de France, the national body representing ski resorts, tells CNN Travel that half of the 7,500 ski slopes in France are currently closed due to “a lack of snow and a lot of rain”.
Today, higher altitude resorts such as the highly successful Val Thorens, which is about 2,300 meters (7,546 ft) high, with a maximum altitude of 3,230 metres, are still going strong. In general, it is the European ski resorts at lower altitudes that are suffering.
At the French resort Ax 3 Domaines, which peaks at 2,400 meters, representative Jaques Murat told CNN that travel conditions at the resort began to deteriorate in late December, just as it was experiencing one of its busiest periods. : the festive holidays.
Closing the tracks was a financially difficult decision, but by the end of December the team felt they had no other choice.
Some resorts are also adapting where they can, trading ski rentals for mountain bikes and encouraging those stuck in a snow-free resort to make the most of the backcountry.
Murat says that this was not possible at Ax 3 Domaines.
“There’s too much snow for bikes, but not enough to ski right now,” he says.
Instead, the team is relying on snow in the coming days or weeks.
Alpine weather expert Fraser Wilkin, who runs a website called Weather to Ski that provides snow updates for alpine skiers, is keen to stress to would-be travelers that there is still potential for skiing in Europe.
“The area that is really bad is relatively small,” Wilkin tells CNN Travel.
But the impact is still widespread, he adds.
Laurent Reynaud, French ski organization Domaines Skiable de France
“You still can’t get away from the fact that everywhere in the Alps is below average in terms of snow depth at this stage of the season,” says Wilkin, who also runs a ski holiday company called Snow. -Wise.
“It is necessary that it snow again considerably to avoid problems later.”
And while some ski resorts rely on artificial snow, the fake stuff can still melt, especially if the weather gets above 59 F. It’s also expensive, with significant environmental impact, since it relies on vast amounts of power and water.
Summing up the situation, Reynauld simply says: “Climate change is underway.”
It is evident throughout Europe, he says.
“We experience the same situation as our Swiss, Italian and Austrian neighbors.”
See all Europe
Local Mark Bennett took this photo at Klewenalp in central Switzerland on January 4, 2023.
Isa Castellvi works as the manager of a ski and snowboard school in a resort in the Pyrenees.
The temperatures there, he tells CNN Travel, are more reminiscent of spring than they were in early January. While there is some snow, it’s not “the best” and the resort is feeling the pinch, even if it’s not closed and the reservations keep coming.
“We have had many cancellations,” says Castellvi.
Only one in three ski resorts and only a quarter of the ski slopes in the Pyrenees were open in December due to poor snow conditions, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
On the other side of the Alps, in Switzerland, British retiree Mark Bennett lives in a small town near Lucerne, located at the foot of the Klewenalp-Stockhutte ski resort. Like Le Praz De Lys, this is a small, low-lying resort: the highest point is just over 2,000 meters.
“They closed the resort to try to keep the snow out for Christmas and New Years, but it’s all gone,” says Bennett, who has lived in the area for the past decade. “It’s been very sad: you haven’t seen the usual buzz and life of the holidays.”
While there have always been “odd days of bad conditions” and some years where the snow has come late, Bennett tells CNN Travel that overall, “it’s been a trickle-feed of slightly worse conditions and fewer snow days.” ski”.
Another photograph showing the lack of snow in Klewenalp, Switzerland.
Castellvi is trying to be optimistic in the short term: He expects snow conditions to improve next week, when a fall is forecast, and advises travelers to check exact conditions at their destination before they panic.
But in the long term he feels the situation is bleak.
“I wish the future looked good, but unfortunately, as an environmental activist, I’m not very positive about the future,” she says. “I believe what the climate change experts say. We are all seeing the evidence.”
The Wilkin weather tracker sums up the alpine weather situation as becoming more and more “volatile”, and this will only continue as the climate crisis hits Europe. Currently there is still snow, and there is still a chance of snow, even a lot, but it is apparently less and less guaranteed.
“For sure the future is not going to be good for the ski resort,” says Murat of Ax 3 Domaines.
“There will still be skiing for a long time,” says Wilkin. “But we will see our resorts come under more and more pressure. And we will see that more people need to go higher, and that will drive prices up.”
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