How climate change threatens to close ski resorts

Meanwhile, some have resorted to covering glaciers in protective blankets to stop them from melting in the summer. Made out of white UV-resistant synthetic material, the blankets shield the thick snow winter from the Sun’s rays during the warmer summer months. According to a 2021 study, the technique can reduce the melting of snow and ice by 50-70%, compared to unprotected surfaces.

But it is a costly process, the study’s authors warn. Covering all of Switzerland’s 1,000 largest glaciers would cost about 1.4bn Swiss Francs ($1.5bn; £1.2bn) annually, they estimate.

There are also negative environmental consequences associated with this adaptation measure, warns Cavitte. Polluting machines are used to put the blankets down and remove them. “And when they take them off, there’s always pieces of plastic that are left behind which contaminate the glacier and surrounding land,” she says. There are also concerns about how this measure will impact local biodiversity and wildlife, she adds.

These short-term measures will not shield the industry from the looming climate threat. “The ski industry is not going to be able to save itself,” acknowledges Schendler.

Despite this bleak outlook, many resorts have adopted ambitious, long-term sustainability goals in a bid to reduce their emissions and protect their natural resources.

Big Sky resort, which sits at an elevation of 2,200m (7,200ft) in the Rocky Mountains in southern Montana, is aiming for net zero emissions by 2030, under its Forever Project, which was launched in 2021. The resort has introduced a wide range of sustainability measures, including a newly installed 32 kilowatt (kW) solar array, improving the efficiency of buildings, reducing its water usage and protecting its forests, says Amy Fonte, sustainability specialist and head of the Forever Project.

The resort also purchases renewable energy credits for the remaining electricity it uses, including for its 38 chairlifts and its housing, says Fonte.

Aspen Skiing Company, meanwhile, is aiming to source 100% renewable electricity to power all its operations by 2030. “Ski resorts use fossil fuels and a lot of energy. It would be completely hypocritical if those resorts were not working to fix the system, ” says Schendler.

Meanwhile, a wood pellet plant heats 600 apartments, two hotels and a public swimming pool in Anzère, saving the village 1.5 million liters (330,000 gallons) of oil a year. Most of the resort already runs on hydroelectricity, which is generated at the nearby Tseuzier dam.

Anzère is also car-free and offers free public transport to all visitors, in a bid to encourage people to travel more sustainably. Tourists also have a role to play in helping reduce emissions and preserving the mountains, says Dijkman. “It’s a mindset that needs to not only be present among local businesses but also among the people that come here on holiday.”

This starts with choosing how they travel to the ski resort. According to a recent survey by the Ski Club of Great Britain, just 2% of British travelers take the train to go skiing, compared to 72% who fly. (Read more about the climate impact of flying). For people in Europe looking to travel in a more sustainable way to the Alps, there are plenty of options ranging from the Alpen Express, an overnight train traveling from the Netherlands via Cologne to Austrian resorts, or the TravelSki Express which runs between London and the French Alps, via a Eurostar to Paris.

Even if they are unable to change their own fate, resorts can still play an important role in the fight against climate change, says Schendler. “The role of the industry is to help the public understand what they stand to lose from climate change and to advocate for solutions.”

Ski resorts are the “perfect messenger” for highlighting the reality of the climate crisis, says Schendler. “People love what skiing offers them today. The threat of that disappearing is the kind of visceral hit that people need to catapult themselves into action.”

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