Icy patches, muddy slopes and reduced snow coverage – the tolls climate change has taken on the Alps worsen skiing experience.
The white mountains still await the sun’s radiant touch on this typical December day at 6 am. Bertrend, a skier and a coach who calls the Alpine village home, is ready for his morning jog routine before coaching another group of boys and girls in skiing. Having skied for 50 years since the age of three, he senses a warmer winter than usual.
The Alps, an extensive mountain range spanning eight European countries, have experienced a 1.5 degree celsius temperature rise over the past century. Now, an additional 36 days in the Alps are devoid of snow coverage – the decline in snow cover exceeding eight percent per decade, with the majority of this change occurring in the last 30 years.
When Bertrend’s students first arrived in the Alps in mid December, the high temperature of 8 degree celsius shocked them. The whole week of skiing felt warm, and it did not snow at all. The maximum temperature reached 10 degree celsius, when December is supposed to be one of the coldest times of the year.
Instead of the white, fluffy and soft snow, small ice patches are seen on the surface of the slopes in the French Alps. Muddy areas are present on some slopes at around 1600 to 2200 metres altitude.
Computer science student Wenfei He finds it hard to perform speed control on icy slopes and falls repeatedly, despite being an experienced skier. The poor slope conditions hinder her from attempting a more challenging slope.
“(Skiing on icy slopes) kind of puts me off skiing to be honest, because it’s not as fun when it’s like that, and I feel like I could do something else,” she says.
“You can’t always have good conditions, but I guess with climate change, it will be less likely… that is really depressing to think about to be honest.”
International development student Garod Horozoglu also feels that the pistes are icier, with less snow coverage and more mud compared to his last year ski in Val Thorens, France, where snow machines were used to maintain optimal conditions.
“It was really hot on the first three days. I put on a T-shirt and my ski coat, but still sweated,” says Horozoglu, adding that the last three days were colder with better overall conditions despite the slopes remaining icy.
Research published last August in ‘Nature Climate Change’, suggests that 53% of ski resorts in Europe could suffer from poor snow supply if the global temperature rises by 2 degree celsius.
While NASA’s analysis shows at least a 1.1 degree celsius increase of the average global temperature in 2022, compared to the pre-industrial average, the global temperature in late 2023 increased by more than two degree celsius, according to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.
Meanwhile, the average temperature in the Alps has risen by around 1.5 degree celsius between 1900 and 2018, according to the European Environment Agency, with most of the change concentrated in the last three decades.
Poor snow reliability has seen the closure of pistes in certain ski resorts. Measures such as the use of artificial snow and transporting of snow by helicopter have become commonplace. Yet, these measures increase water and electricity demands, treading extra carbon footprints on the ski industry’s frosty slopes.