Skiing without snow, ghost town resorts and reused ski jumps?
Climate change and the warmer winters it will create have cast doubts on the future of winter sports as we know it.
Winter sports face an existential threat, industry experts say, with new data showing that the most recent winter of 2049 was the warmest on record in the northern and southern hemispheres.
the temperature rise has caused unprecedented cancellations of ski and snowboarding events across the world and last week, Chamonix in France became the last former host city of the Winter Olympics to announce the partial closure of its facilities.
The city was the site of the first Winter Olympics, in 1924, and is seen as a hugely symbolic loss to add to what some say is worrying news of record-breaking seasonal temperatures.
“There was so much pride in the history that we have here and it is with a very heavy and sad heart that we now feel that we have to redevelop a large part of our winter sports facilities,” said the Mayor of the city, Véronique Badeaux, at the BBC.
“Continued climate change has meant that our winter season has shortened considerably from year to year, this season saw a thaw in the middle of the season, with rain also affecting the quality of the snow.
“With higher temperatures even using fake snow becomes difficult and although the technology has improved and is being powered by renewable energy, we just couldn’t justify using water while d other regions of France experienced drought during the summer. “
What is the impact on elite level sport?
Record-breaking warm temperatures saw a chaotic professional snow sports season. It has been common for some time to have spare locations in case some venues cannot accommodate events due to weather conditions, but this season a record number of competitions have been moved and some locations have had to accommodate several events.
“It’s exhausting, you don’t know where you’re going to be at any moment and not all air travel can be good for the environment. I’m worried about how long the season can go on. in its current form, “said Georgie Grace, a British ski cross athlete.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) acknowledged the challenges and said it “was looking for possible solutions to the programming chaos that has occurred this year – difficult choices may have to be made”.
He then thanked all the athletes and organizers at all levels for their patience and said that although some events could not go ahead, the fact that the season ended despite such difficult weather conditions was “a testament patience and hard work from everyone involved “.
The economic impact
Unable to guarantee quality snowfall, many resorts have seen their reservations drop as visitors head to resorts at higher elevations or more northern latitudes. Many companies have suffered and gone bankrupt, but some have tried to adapt.
In Garmisch-Partenkirchen, another former winter Olympic venue, Ski Chalet Bavaria director Uta Huber told the BBC: “We have to make changes otherwise, like so many small hotels and individual chalet operators, we may not survive.
“Some towns that were once seasonal winter resorts are now on the verge of shutting down completely and effectively becoming ghost towns,” she added.
Estimates vary as to how many jobs have already been lost, but there is real fear in communities that the worst is yet to come, according to Bavaria Tourism.
“Even though we can reuse some of the tourism infrastructure like hotels, there are many supporting industries associated with skiing such as ski lift instructors and manufacturers, equipment stores that will always be lost,” a door said. -speak.
How did the rising temperatures affect participation?
The reduced winter season and the reduced number of venues across the globe have seen winter sports fall victim to traditional supply and demand issues.
The cost of ski vacations in still viable resorts has increased and made them much less affordable for many, while the issue of emissions from international air travel has also meant that people are less able to travel far to ski.
This has contributed to a dramatic drop in participation in snow sports, with some former athletes speculating that as the elite level melts, we may have to see a Winter Olympics without real snow, or the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may be forced to relocate. to a single host city that would organize all future editions of the Olympic Winter Games with the aim of preserving the 126-year history of the Games.
As one insider put it, “We have to do something. Unfortunately, things don’t look better anytime soon.”
Dr Madeleine Orr is Assistant Professor of Sports Management at SUNY Cortland and Founder of the Sports Ecology Group
For many regions of France, northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Nordic countries, Scotland and North America, winter sports are not are not just competitions for elite athletes; they are an economic accelerator and a centerpiece of national culture.
The Winter Olympics are the flagship event for winter sports. And yet, the number of cities eligible to host, from a climate point of view, is declining.
Vancouver 2010 saw green slopes at Cypress Mountain and brought in snow by truck to host ski events. The problem of insufficient snow resurfaced in Sochi 2014, and based on new research, will likely appear in Beijing next year.
The 2020 Finlandia Ski Marathon and 2021 Can-Am Pond Hockey Tournament were canceled because the weather was too hot, with the latter’s thin ice swallowing a snow removal tractor.
In other cases, winter sports disruption is caused by too much snow. Last February, the Alpine Skiing World Championships in Cortina, Italy, site of the 2026 Winter Olympics, were hit by a snowstorm so dramatic that the races were postponed for two consecutive days.
These episodes of heavy snowfall are increasingly common in some areas as warming temperatures around the world cause more water to evaporate, adding moisture to the atmosphere. This extra moisture, in turn, causes more precipitation in the form of heavy rain and snowfall.
This is part of a larger snowpack change trend that is endangering the entire winter sports industry. According to a study published in Geophysical research letters, the western United States has seen an average 41% drop in snowfall since the 1980s.
A a similar trend was observed in the Alps, although the changes are less dramatic above 1,750m above sea level, isolating some of the larger resorts such as Zermatt and St Moritz.
Some snow sports are adapting by adding flexibility to competition schedules, moving their event to colder locations, or adopting new snowmaking technologies. But these are ad hoc solutions and the future outlook for winter sports remains bleak.
For those who work in the industry and its associated tourism sector, the weather is a major concern and the loss of winter sports will be deeply felt.
Matt McGrath is the environment correspondent for BBC News
Research at the University of Waterloo in Canada shows that nine of the 21 venues that hosted the previous Winter Olympics may not be cold enough by the middle of this century to host them again.
In recent years, the Games in Vancouver in Canada and Sochi in Russia have had to resort to artificial snow machines and other technology to keep things cool enough for competitors.
Rising temperatures around the world are making the air warmer and the number of days with below average temperatures in winter has decreased.
The snow lines are receding – now you have to climb higher up the mountain to find the snow than you did in the past.
The length of the ski season has shortened – and is predicted to be even shorter. Nearly all ski resorts in the United States are expected to experience a decline in season length of about 50% by the middle of this century, according to a study.
Right now, when there isn’t enough snow, Olympic resorts and venues have to turn to technology. Snowmaking equipment works by forcing water through tiny nozzle holes at high pressure – but it only produces snow if the air temperature is low enough. In a changing climate, it is difficult to guarantee.
Artificial snow is also expensive in terms of environmental impact. The technology requires large amounts of water, as well as energy in the form of electricity which can increase carbon emissions if not from renewable sources.
It’s not just the snow that is affected by rising temperatures. This is also happening with ice, with backyard rinks in Canada starting to disappear as the world heats up.
A citizen science project has found that by 2090, the number of available skating days will drop by more than a third in cities like Toronto and Montreal.