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Ski resorts face snow scarcity due to climate change

For many, skiing isn’t just a sport; it’s a beloved winter ritual. But this cherished anticipation is colliding with the harsh reality of a changing climate. The once-reliable peaks, promising endless snowy adventures, now face an uncertain future.

Rising temperatures and unpredictable weather threaten to relegate these experiences to a fading memory. This shift isn’t just about a loss of winter fun; it’s a glaring sign of the dramatic changes unfolding on our planet.

Climate change impact on skiing

Researchers from University of Bayreuth examined how climate change would impact ski resorts around the world – not just the usual suspects like the Alps in Europe and the Rockies in North America, but also places like the Andes in South America and the Japanese Alps.

To get a clear picture of the potential changes, they looked at “snow cover days.” That’s the number of days in a year when the slopes naturally have enough snow to truly enjoy those thrilling winter sports.

The news isn’t good. Climate change is wreaking havoc with snowfall patterns, and the study predicts a bleak future for many ski resorts. The impact varied by region:

  • Australian Alps: Worst hit, could lose an average of 78% of their natural snow cover days by the end of the century.
  • Southern Alps (New Zealand): Also severely impacted, with potential losses of up to 51% of natural snow cover days.
  • Japanese Alps: Predicted to see a 50% decline in natural snow cover days.
  • Andes (South America): Facing potential losses of up to 43% of snow cover days.
  • European Alps: While less severely impacted, could still see a decrease of 42% in natural snow cover days.
  • Appalachian Mountains (Eastern North America): Could lose up to 37% of natural snow cover days.
  • Rocky Mountains (Western North America): The least affected, but still facing potential declines of around 23%.

Natural snow losses in changing climate

Overall, under a high emissions scenario, 13% of ski areas globally are predicted to completely lose their natural snow cover days by the end of the century. Even more staggering, 20% of resorts could lose over half their natural snow cover days every year.

“This study demonstrates significant future losses in natural snow cover of current ski areas worldwide, indicating spatial shifts of ski area distributions, potentially threatening high-elevation ecosystems,” the researchers warn.

Alternatives for ski resorts

So, what does this mean for skiers and snowboarders? Some resorts may try to adapt by relocating to higher, colder places. The problem is, those unspoiled higher areas are home to plants and animals already stressed by climate change. Expanding ski operations there could put these fragile ecosystems under even more pressure.

Another option to combat the dwindling snowpack is to make artificial snow. But this isn’t a perfect solution. It’s expensive, uses tons of energy and water, and let’s be honest – fake snow never feels quite the same as the real, powdery stuff.

This bleak outlook isn’t just about fun in the snow. Skiing is big business. The researchers predict diminishing snow will hurt the industry’s bottom line: the economic profitability of ski resorts will fall globally. Resorts will have less money to spend, impacting local economies that depend on winter tourism.

Global warming is changing skiing

This study paints a worrisome picture. Climate change could drastically alter the vibrant ski industry as we know it. Popular destinations beloved by generations of skiers and snowboarders might struggle to survive, transforming the very landscape of winter sports.

But the study also highlights a much broader issue: Even our favorite recreational activities aren’t immune to the far-reaching effects of a warming planet.

While there’s no single fix to this problem, the study underscores the urgent need for climate action. Our choices – from how we travel to what energy sources we use – impact everything from the powder on our favorite slopes to the balance of the natural world.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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