Is Global Warming A Good Thing For High Altitude Ski Resorts?

By: Mark Scriven

Global warming and the associated changes in climate are being caused by the so-called "greenhouse" effect, which is raising the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere. Global temperatures have been forecast to increase from 1.5 to 6.0 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Since nine of the ten warmest years have occurred in the past decade, skiers have been amongst the first spots lovers to be affected by the changing climate. While they are naturally concerned at how this may affect their sport, they can make choices in their skiing destinations which will increase their chance of having a good time at the snow.

Some ski resorts will get more snow

While many low-level ski resorts may have to shut down, as reduced snowfall makes them uneconomical, high altitude resorts such as Méribel and the Trois Vallées in France, where 80 percent of skiing is above 2,000 meters, will experience greater precipitation and snowfall. While many ski resorts are moving uphill and impacting on ecologically sensitive areas, high altitude Méribel is building on its long heritage of eco-friendly policies to strengthen and consolidate its green ski facilities and maintain its reputation as having some of the world's finest ski runs.

Méribel has been pioneering and instituting environmental controls since it was established in 1938. These included green building codes such as energy-saving roof and wall insulation, and mandatory construction of underground parking. Today, traffic reduction is encouraged by the provision a free shuttle bus system and a network of cross-country pedestrian trails that connect the various resort areas. On-piste organic toilets are a recent innovation that helps reduce pollution.

Waste recycling is mandatory, vehicles run on bio-diesel, and snow cannons and trail-groomers powered by renewable hydroelectric power have been installed. At Val Thorens, the highest resort of the Trois Vallées, the lifts are also hydro-powered.

Many skiers choose to remain after the snow has melted to take part in piste cleaning work at the season's end. As well, ecologically sensitive areas are checked for damage and replanted with appropriate species to insure, as much as possible, that biological diversity is maintained. Around Val Thorens, for example, over 200,000 trees have been planted in the last 20 years.

Global Warming could strengthen higher altitude resorts

Europe's 2006-2007 winter season is on record as the warmest since 1950, with average temperatures 2.1 degrees higher than normal. Since resorts located below 1,500m experienced little snow cover on their lower slopes, the media was quick to report the end of skiing as a sport. But resorts, indeed regions, will continue to experience good and bad ski seasons, leading to longer or shorter periods suitable for snow sports.

With heavier precipitation, including snow, high altitude resorts will continue to be a safe bet for snow sports enthusiasts, and businesses here could well experience a boom as competition from other lower resorts declines. Of course, the greater visitation of higher areas will put strains on existing infrastructure and the environment, but the green ethic has been embraced by a new breed of dedicated skiers who see the survival of their sport tied in with the survival of the planet.

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