Photos of abandoned ski lifts and snowless slopes reveal the toll that rising temperatures are taking on winter resorts

insider@insider.com (Holly Secon)




Ski resort in Japan with no snow

A woman and a child remove their snowboards next to patches of grass at a ski resort in Minamiuonuma.

Colin Court/Getty Images

  • Climate change is leading to warmer winters, which threaten winter tourism around the world.

  • Local economies in towns with ski resorts depend on snowy ski seasons.

  • Photos from France, Chile, Japan, and Norway clearly show the threat climate change poses to winter tourism.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

This has been the mildest winter in over a century at Le Mourtis, a small ski resort in the French Pyrenees.

"There's no snow," Frederic Foltran, a French tourist, told Reuters last week.

Like many other ski resorts around the world, Le Mourtis is scrambling to figure out how to keep customers coming as climate change causes increasingly unpredictable weather, unseasonable warmth, depressed snowfall, and more extreme storms.

For now, the resort is relying on fake snow from snow guns. Another French ski resort, Luchon-Superbagnères, reportedly helicoptered in fresh snow, prompting criticism from environmentalists over the fossil-fuel consumption of helicopters.

Local economies in many mountain towns rely on winter tourism for revenue and employment. But a lack of snow has led to hours cuts for staff at Le Mourtis and forced ski resorts in Minamiuonuma, Japan, to close some slopes.

These photos of ski resorts around the world show them barren of snow and, consequently, of people as the ski season shrinks.

Unseasonably warm and dry winters are forcing ski resorts to close during what should be their busiest times.


2020 02 12T152049Z_3_LYNXMPEG1B0ZP_RTROPTP_4_CLIMATE CHANGE FRANCE SKIING.JPG

 

Regis Duvignau/Reuters

During the 2019 season, the San Giacomo ski resort in Italy's Montagna dei Fiori opened only on the weekends and rented sleds but no skis, The New Republic reported.

Related: Climate Change Is Worsening Your Seasonal Allergies

The nearby Alpe Giumello resort could not open until February last year because of the lack of snow. The San Simone resort in the Alps closed in 2017 as it filed for bankruptcy protection.

January 2020 was the hottest recorded January on Earth. The four warmest Januaries on record were in the past four years.


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Regis Duvignau/Reuters

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimated in 2012 that winter tourism in the US was a $12.2 billion industry, but it has been feeling the economic effects of a shrinking snowpack.

A 2017 paper estimated that the length of the winter season could shrink considerably at downhill-skiing areas across the US: a 50% decrease by 2050 and an 80% decrease by 2090.

Europe saw at least a 50% reduction in the frequency of extremely cold winter days from 1950 to 2018, one team of climate scientists found.


2020 02 12T152049Z_2_LYNXMPEG1B10X_RTROPTP_4_CLIMATE CHANGE FRANCE SKIING.JPG

 

Regis Duvignau/Reuters

"Even at this regional scale over Europe, we can see that these trends are much larger than what we would expect from natural variability," Ruth Lorenz, a climate scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said in a statement.

Restaurants, hotels, bars, gas stations, equipment shops, and other businesses near suffering ski resorts are also losing money.


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Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Winter tourism makes up as much as 90% of the economies of mountain towns in the European Alps, a 2013 paper found.

François Gillaizeau, the manager of the Tuc de l'Etang hotel, restaurant, and gear-rental shop near Le Mourtis, told Reuters that he'd already had to reduce some staff members' hours this season.


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Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Gillaizeau told Reuters that he expected his businesses' revenue to decline by 10% to 15% from the year before.

Some ski resorts are offering outdoor recreation activities that don't rely on snow, like downhill scooters.


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Regis Duvignau/Reuters

"If the snow is not there, we have to sell something else," Gillaizeau told Reuters.

He added that he'd started renting scooters that come with skids for gliding on snow but can also be fitted with bicycle wheels to use on dirt.

Many resorts, including Le Mourtis, make artificial snow. But it's an expensive process that involves pumping cold water up the mountain, combining it with compressed air in a gunlike machine, and shooting it out on the slopes.


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Regis Duvignau/Reuters

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimated in 2012 that by the 2009-10 ski season, 88% of resorts in the National Ski Areas Association were supplementing natural snow with snow-making processes.

Ski resorts in Chile also used artificial snow during a tough 2019 season.


Snow cannons on El Colorado in the Andes Mountains in Chile

 

Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images

The El Colorado skiing center in Chile operated at only 70% capacity during its ski season in 2019, Chile's driest winter in six decades, even while producing snow, The Santiago Times reported.

Making fake snow uses a significant amount of energy, so it's not environmentally friendly, and it still requires cold temperatures.

Snow shortages affect more than skiers — less snowfall also means less long-term snow cover, which is crucial in helping to regulate Earth's temperature.


Aerial view of El Colorado skiing centre, in the Andes Mountains

 

Martin BernettiI/AFP via Getty Images

Snow cover, areas of land blanketed by accumulated snow, reflects sunlight away from Earth's surface, thereby reducing the amount of heat absorbed.

In the Andes, snow cover has diminished by 5% to 10% each decade for the past few decades, Raul Cordero, a physics professor at the University of Santiago, told The Santiago Times last year.


Chile Andes snow cover

 

John Ferndetti/AFP via Getty Images

Source: Santiago Times

Japan is also experiencing the effects of climate change. December's snowfall was the lowest recorded since the country's meteorological agency began keeping track in 1961.


Skiers pause near restaurants at a ski resort that has had to close a number of slopes because of a lack of snow in Minamiuonuma, Japan. Getty Images

 

Carl Court/Getty Images

Source: Bloomberg

Japan's average annual snow depth decreased by 12.3% to 14.6% each decade from 1962 to 2016. A woman and a child remove their snowboards next to patches of grass at a ski resort in Minamiuonuma.

Ski resort in Japan with no snow

Colin Court/Getty Images

Colin Court/Getty Images

Source: Japanese Ministry of the Environment

What's more, extreme winter storms that would have occurred about once every 10 years are expected to become more frequent in Japan's Honshu and Hokkaido islands.


GettyImages MinamiuonumaJapan

 

Carl Court/Getty Images

Source: Japanese Ministry of the Environment

This year in Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido, ski competitions were canceled, and the city had to truck in snow for its annual snow festival, Bloomberg reported.


Truck in snow Sapporo snow festiva

 

Kyodo News Stills via Getty Images

The city also had to bring in snow from other locations during similarly warm winters.

In Norway, a real-estate developer created an indoor ski resort that opened last month.


Norway indoor skiing arena, called Norway Sno

 

Stian Lysberg Solum/NTB Scanpix via Reuters

While the facility was originally intended for use during bad winter weather and in summer months, the warmer winter this year has led people to visit it during the regular ski season, Bloomberg reported.

Average temperatures in some areas of northeastern Europe last month were as high as 6 degrees Celsius above the January average for 1981 to 2010, according to Europe's Copernicus Climate Change Service.


Norway Indoor Skiing Rink

 

Stian Lysberg Solum/NTB Scanpix via Reuters

"Skiing? No one today can guarantee it," Gillaizeau told Reuters.

Source: Copernicus Climate Change Service

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