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European ski resorts close because there is no snow

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(CNN) — Christine Harrison has been visiting Le Praz De Lys-Sommand, a small ski resort in the French Alps, for 20 years. The view from his cabin window has always been more or less the same – a vast expanse of mountains, hills and cabins, all blanketed in deep, foamy snow.

But this year, the landscape is barren. The skis have been put away. Many other potential Harrison skiers have returned home.

“There is literally no snow this year,” she told CNN Travel.

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 meteorological service.

Ski resorts in the Alps, especially those in lower regions, have temporarily closed their slopes as this warm weather, coupled with torrential rain, washes away December snowfall.

Harrison and his partner, from the UK, were aware of the lack of snow at Praz De Lys before their arrival. They decided to go anyway, arriving at the end of December mainly to check on their chalet – they had heard that the washout had led to flooding in the basement.

Now, instead of spending his days on the slopes, Harrison watches the wildlife buzzing on his balcony. The birds, she suggests, also seem confused by the spring conditions.

“Normally, I don’t give croissants to blue tits on January 3 in the French Alps,” says Harrison.

Volatile situation

The photo on the left was taken by Christine Harrison at Praz De Lys in January 2018. Here is the same view five years later.

Laurent Reynaud, chief executive of Domaines skiables de France, the national body representing ski resorts, told CNN Travel that half of France’s 7,500 ski slopes are currently closed, due “to a lack of snow and lots of rain.

At present, high-altitude resorts – like the big hitter Val Thorens, which peaks at around 2,300 meters (7,546 feet) above sea level, with a top elevation of 3,230 meters – still perform just as well. It is generally the lower altitude European ski resorts that suffer.

In the French station Ax 3 Domaines, which rises to 2,400 meters, representative Jaques Murat told CNN that travel conditions at the station began to deteriorate in late December, when it was experiencing one of its periods. the busiest – festive holidays.

Closing the tracks was a tough decision financially, but in late December the team felt they had no choice.

Some resorts are also adapting where they can, replacing ski hire with mountain bikes and encouraging those who find themselves stuck in a snowless resort to still enjoy the countryside.

Murat says that was not possible at Ax 3 Domaines.

“There’s too much snow for biking, but not enough for skiing right now,” he says.

Instead, the team is banking on snow in the days or weeks ahead.

Alpine weather expert Fraser Wilkin, who runs a website called Weather to Ski, providing snow updates for alpine skiers, is keen to point out to would-be travelers that there is still skiing potential in Europe.

“The area that’s really, really bad is relatively small,” Wilkin told CNN Travel.

But the impact remains widespread, he adds.

“Climate change is at work. We are experiencing the same situation as our Swiss, Italian and Austrian neighbours”

Laurent Reynaud, French ski organization Domaines skiables de France

“You still can’t escape the fact that everywhere in the Alps snow depths are lower than normal at this point in the season,” says Wilkin, who also runs a ski vacation company called Snow-Wise.

“It needs to snow heavily again to avoid problems later.”

And while some ski resorts rely on artificial snow, the fake stuff can still melt – especially if the weather is 59 F. It’s also expensive, with a significant environmental impact because it depends on large amounts of energy and water.

Summarizing the situation, Reynauld says simply: “Climate change is at work.

This is evident across Europe, he says.

“We are experiencing the same situation as our Swiss, Italian and Austrian neighbours.”

View over all of Europe

Local Mark Bennett took this photo in Klewenalp in central Switzerland on January 4, 2023.

Local Mark Bennett took this photo in Klewenalp in central Switzerland on January 4, 2023.

Marc Bennett

Isa Castellvi works as a ski and snowboard school manager in a resort in the Pyrenees.

Temperatures there, she tells CNN Travel, are more reminiscent of spring than early January. Although there is snow, it’s not “the best” and the resort is feeling the impact, even though it’s not closed and bookings keep pouring in.

“We had many cancellations,” says Castellvi.

Only one in three ski resorts and only a quarter of 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 pensioner Mark Bennett lives in a small village near Lucerne, located at the foot of the Klewenalp-Stockhutte ski area. Like Le Praz De Lys, it’s a small, low-altitude resort – the highest point is just over 2,000 metres.

“They closed the resort to try to save some snow for Christmas and New Years, but it all disappeared,” says Bennett, who has lived in the area for a decade. “It’s been very sad – the usual holiday buzz and life hasn’t been seen.”

Although there have always been “odd days of poor conditions” and some years when the snow has arrived late, Bennett told CNN Travel that overall “it was a trickle flow slightly worse conditions and fewer ski days”.

Another photo showing the lack of snow in Klewenalp, Switzerland.

Another photo showing the lack of snow in Klewenalp, Switzerland.

Marc Bennett

Castellvi is trying to be optimistic in the short term – she hopes snow conditions will improve next week, when a fall is expected, and advises travelers to check the exact conditions at their destination before panicking.

But in the long term, she feels the situation is grim.

“I would like the future to be bright, but unfortunately, as an environmental activist, I am not very optimistic about the future,” she says. “I believe what the climate change experts are saying. We all see the evidence.”

Weather tracker Wilkin summarizes the Alpine climate situation as increasingly “volatile”, and this will only continue as the climate crisis hits Europe. There is currently still snow, and there is still a chance that it will snow, even a lot, but it is apparently less and less guaranteed.

While some resorts are already permanently retired, for many others the seasons are getting shorter and the outlook is uncertain.

“It is sure that the future will not be good for the ski resort”, assures Murat, of Ax 3 Domaines.

“There will still be skiing for a long time,” says Wilkin. “But we’ll see our resorts come under more and more pressure. And we’ll see more people have to go higher, and that will drive prices up.”

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