How Ski Resorts Are Fighting Climate Change

New methods of snow production might have wider applications

Val d'Isère
The scenic Alpine town of Val d'Isère.
Florian Pépellin/Creative Commons

For years, the Alps were home to the Platonic ideal of ski resorts. Think about it: amazing vistas, cozy small towns and an abundance of snow; the conditions for a memorable vacation for expert skiers and beginners alike were all there. But with the rise of climate change, mountains where snow once prevailed are now facing an uncertain future.

At The Guardian, Simon Parkin explores the ways in which areas historically dependent on skiing for their local economy are grappling with this changing situation. While climate change’s effects are present around the world, they’ve hit the Alps particularly hard: a report from the nonprofit CIPRA notes that “[t]emperatures in the Alps have risen by just under 2°C over the past 120 years, almost twice as much as the global average.” 

Parkin’s article traces the fortunes of the Alpine town Val d’Isère, which has been a hub for skiing enthusiasts since the late 1940s. Parkin writes that “in the mid-1980s, locals began to notice a change. The date of the first snowfall began to drift later. Patches of bare ground appeared on slopes that, in previous years, had been covered in an uninterrupted white drift.” 

Val d’Isère’s altitude means that it’s experiencing the effects of climate change less severely than the towns located below it. It’s an ominous picture for a host of communities whose economies are centered around one activity.

To address this, Parkin notes, resorts there have taken to using snowmaking machines. Even that has felt the effects of climate change. “The snow is shot on to the mountains at a speed of 250km/h via 650 snow cannons,” he writes. “Ten years ago the cannons could be spaced 80 metres apart from one another and still create an unbroken blanket of snow, but climate change has since forced Mattis to cut that distance in half.”

But skiing isn’t the only place where snowmaking machines are proving useful: scientists have also begun using them to repair the damage done by climate change to local glaciers. Technological advances helped spark global warming; might they also be able to mitigate its effects? Parkin’s article offers a glimmer of optimism in that department. 

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