The Scottish skiing industry could collapse within as little as 50 years as winters become too mild for regular snowfall, a new international report warns. Continuous decreases in snow cover have already been observed over the last 40 years, with three of Scotland’s main resorts spending more than half their operating budgets on artificial snow factories after a particularly bad 2016-17 season. The Climate Coalition’s report on Wednesday warned that if these trends continue, disaster looms, with “potentially devastating consequences for local economies in the Scottish mountains”.
The report, Game Changer, published by the Climate Coalition is made up of over 130 organisations comprising Oxfam, the National Trust, WWF-UK and RSPB. “Retreating glaciers and the disappearance of ice on mountain climbing routes, as documented by the athletes, are in line with climate models which predict the effects of a warming world on mountainous areas,” says the report quoting Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds Director Piers Forster. As temperatures rise, the snowline will retreat, making winter sports increasingly vulnerable to climate change, he said.
In Europe, there are big concerns, particularly for ski resorts under 1,000m. As a rule of thumb, with every one degree Celsius temperature increase the snowline elevation will rise by 150m. As a result, less snow will accumulate at low elevations and the ski season may start up to a month later and finish up to three months earlier due to the lack of snow. Nearly half of all ski resorts in Switzerland, and even more in Germany, Austria and the Pyrenees, will face difficulties in attracting tourists and winter sport enthusiasts in the future, says the report.
Sharing first-hand account of Alpine skiing commentator for Eurosport and BBC Sport, Matt Chilton, who has been visiting the Alps in winter since his first trip as a toddler in 1967, the report said: “As a travel and media professional my Alpine work began in 1984. “The changes I have witnessed since then have been remarkable. No two winters are the same in the mountains,” Chilton said.
“Across much of the Alps, snow depths are currently high, but this is largely restricted to high-altitude resorts. Lower lying, previously snow-sure ski areas are losing operational capacity, and livelihoods are at risk as each ski season seems to bring warmer temperatures and fewer snowy days.” According to Chilton, many glacier ski areas where he played in the 1980s-90s have now changed beyond recognition. Resorts which once offered skiing 365 days of the year no longer make these claims.
Increasingly, skiing and snowboarding in November, December and even into January is reliant on artificial snow, which is itself dependent upon low temperatures, water and electricity. The future of the entire ski and snowboard industry, at both recreational and elite competition levels is under pressure. “We need snow and low temperatures. We need winter,” he added.
The Winter Olympics hasn’t escaped the changing climate. A new study from the University of Waterloo in California shows that by the middle of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, almost half of the past Winter Olympics host cities would be too warm for outdoor Alpine sports. As few as six of the previous 19 venues were likely to be cold enough to host the games by the end of the century.
The last Winter Games in Sochi in Russia saw temperatures as high as 16 degrees Celsius, more akin to a Summer Olympics. Freestyle skier Dean Harris, who runs a project called Envirojam to educate people about climate change, said: “We got an amazing response with people seeing the value in sharing cars, getting the train and thinking about how to make small changes.”
“By all of us doing our little bit then perhaps we can prevent snow-free mountains becoming the only option,” added Harris, who has been coming to French Les Deux Alpes for years. The Game Changer report, which aims to build momentum to reduce emissions in line with the ambition of the Paris Agreement to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, has documented the impacts that extreme weather and coastal erosion are having on some of Britain’s most popular sports.For all the latest World News, download NewsX App