Unseasonably warm conditions and sparse snowfall has forced some low-level ski resorts to shut in recent days – as Europe started the new year with record-breaking temperatures.
Bare mountainsides and slushy runs have reignited fears over the effect of climate change on many mountain towns that rely on winter tourism.
Temperatures in France at the end of the year were the warmest for 25 years, according to national forecaster Meteo France.
It was a similar picture in Switzerland, where a weather station in the Jura range saw a record daily average of 18.1C on New Year’s Day.
January temperature records have already been broken in a number of European countries, with one meteorologist calling it “hard to comprehend”.
The northern Alps and French Pyrenees are particularly struggling for snow and some resorts, after barely being open a month, have had to close until things improve.
One of the latest to shut was Ax 3 Domaines, near France’s border with Andorra, which closed on Saturday after only a few weeks.
Le Gets and Morzine, part of the popular Portes de Soleil area, each currently have only two runs open.
“There was a good start to the season with a cold wave in mid-December, which provided some white to pretty much everyone,” said Laurent Reynaud of the Domaines Skiables de France, which represents resorts and lift operators.
“Then, last week, there was quite a bit of rain and warm temperatures, so a certain number of runs had to close again.”
Switzerland’s Adelboden, which on Saturday hosts World Cup skiing, is having to run the race on 100% artificial snow this year.
The Swiss resort of Splugen-Tambo also said on Monday that it was closing “until further notice”.
“Unfortunately, due to the lack of snow, the heavy rainfall and high temperatures, we have to close our ski resort from January 2, 2023, until further notice,” it said in a statement.
There is still some decent snow available – the southern Alps and slopes over 2,200m have close to normal snowfall – but skiers and snowboarders will have to head high.
Many lower altitude towns stand to lose out however, and are increasingly planning for a future that focusses more on year-round activities such as hiking.
Germany, Poland and Czech Republic are among other countries that have already broken temperature records this year, with conditions more reminiscent of spring.
Warsaw recorded 18.9C on 1 January – shattering the previous record by over 5C, Ohlsbach in southwest Germany had 19.4C, and Bilbao in northern Spain recorded 25.1C.
Prague also had its warmest New Year’s Eve in 247 years of records, with temperatures reaching 17.7C.
London-based meteorologist Scott Duncan tweeted on New Year’s Day: “We just observed the warmest January day on record for many countries in Europe. Truly unprecedented in modern records.”
Wim Thiery, climate science professor at the University of Brussels, said the jet stream bringing warm air from subtropical areas into Europe had helped generate the warm temperatures.
But he warned the effect of climate change would radically change winter tourism in Europe.
“By the end of the century (it’s) just going to be over… skiing in the Alps as we know it.
“In the future, these problems will get worse, because the snow will continue to melt as long as the climate warms.”
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