Ski holidays? Not for much longer…

By Rebecca Turton

Skiing  will be amongst the most affected sports by climate change. An extremely popular winter sport, the future of skiing is an unstable one, with every rise in temperature ensuring lower snow fall. Within the last decade, we have witnessed substantial increases in temperatures that have resulted in warmer winters. Indeed, from December 2006 to February 2007, Tyrol saw a mean increase of 3.2 degrees Celsius, according to Steiger and Mayer from Mountain Research and Development. Unfortunately, the increase in temperature will not stop there.

Germany’s slopes could face a 60% decrease in naturally snow-reliable ski areas under a 1 degree Celsius temperature increase.

Rod Leefe via Flickr

Regrettably, the future of skiing on natural snow within European slopes does not appear optimistic. For example, Germany’s resorts are in critical danger. Especially vulnerable to climate change, these low-lying slopes could face a 60% decrease in naturally snow-reliable ski areas under a 1 degree Celsius temperature increase. Even Switzerland, a resort thought to be safe due to it naturally high elevation, has an uncertain future. Currently, the country suffers a decrease of 10% snow reliable days per increase of 1 degree. However, the prediction that the temperature will increase by 1 degree by 2030 and a further 1.8 degrees by 2050 puts the slopes in an unstable position, says Rixen, from Mountain Research and Development. Although this does not sound like a great amount, the line of natural snow reliability will rise by 150 meters per increase of 1 degree Celsius. Venturing away from Europe, Aspen’s slopes are also under threat in the US after experiencing a 6% decrease in precipitation and a 16% decrease in snowfall as a result of an increase of 3 degrees Fahrenheit, as stated by Kirschner and Keller for Natural Resources and Environment.

Switzerland suffers a decrease of 10% snow reliable days per increase of 1 degree

Although the future of skiing on natural snow doesn’t seem realistic, it is possible that fake snow can be used as a substitute. ‘Artificial snow production is the key adaption strategy to rising temperatures’ and has therefore been implemented in many resorts, says Rixen. Switzerland, as a reaction to the imminent threat of melting snow, has increased their snow production rapidly by 26% between 2000 and 2010 and Austria has even succeeded this amount with a 62% increase in production, according to Rixen. Once more looking to the US, Tyrolean ski industry have invested 55 million euros in snowmaking in order to provide reassurance and sustainability to the tourism industry, comments Steiger and Mayer. Thanks to rapid advancements in the technology of snowmaking, the industry can now produce a base layer of snow in approximately 50 hours at top-end resorts, providing hope for the future of skiers.

It is possible that fake snow can be used as a substitute

However, there is the question as to whether resorts are able to increase the production of snow in an economical way whilst being as eco-friendly as possible. Generally, ski resorts use a vast quantity of energy through heating and snow production, leading to the release of harmful emissions. Ultimately, this will become counter-productive as the gasses released will lead to an increased rate of global warming and therefore an increased need to produce snow, and so the vicious circle continues.

Making the resorts as economically friendly as possible could be a way to fix this dilemma. In the Swiss municipality of Davos, heating houses requires 32.5% of the entire energy budget, according to Kirschner and Keller. However, in Davos Spa, the energy used accounts to just 0.7%. This goes to show that heating houses can be managed in a more economically friendly way through insulation, whilst simultaneously providing more energy to put into snow production. Measures such as these would be extremely beneficial towards Davos municipally as the energy required to make the desired amount of snow is the equivalent of powering 130,000 houses, as stated by Kirschner and Keller.

More global measures are being put into place in order to preserve ski slopes and prevent each ski season from shortening due to global warming

Robert Heath via Flickr

In addition to local measures, more global measures are being put into place in order to preserve ski slopes and prevent each ski season from shortening due to global warming. Since 2000, The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has been working on a ‘Sustainable Slopes Program’ coupled with a ‘Keep Cool Winter Program’ in order to raise awareness. Since 2006, the institution has since updated the environmental charter with specific reference to a climate change policy, encouraging resorts to reduce emissions. The organisations encourage generating power through renewable sources such as wind power, geothermal power, small-scale hydro power, solo power or biomass power. This ensures that enough energy is being produced in order to run the resort and produce snow whilst refraining from damaging the environment further. As a result of this, in 2005, Sierra ski resort Sugar Bowl became the first ski area to offset 100% of its electricity carbon emissions by purchasing renewable energy credits for wind power. According to the NSAA, 55 resorts in 14 states in the US are now buying renewable energy in order to reduce carbon emissions and build a more sustainable future for ski resorts.

Whilst the future of skiing on slopes composed of 100% snow looks unlikely, skiing at resorts looks like it will still be possible in the next few decades. Perhaps with the measures and advice put in place, we can reverse some of the effects of climate change in order to slow down the need for artificial snow. This way, we can improve the manufacturing process in order to make it as environmentally friendly as possible using just renewable sources.

Featured  photograph: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

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