Winter sports face an uncertain future as the planet warms.
The outlook is not so gloomy everywhere, at least initially(see ‘Snow down under’). A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, so rising temperatures may actually increase snow at some high-elevation sites — such as the peaks of New Zealand and parts of the Swiss Alps — for several decades, until winter temperatures inch above freezing (see ‘Trouble in the Alps’). In fact, average snowfall over the past decade at the Verbier resort has outpaced that in each of the previous three decades. But the area has also had to deal with more variability, warmer summers and a spate of hit-or-miss winters. “The extremes are much higher or much deeper,” says Eric Balet, chief executive of Téléverbier, the company that owns 4 Vallées. That introduces an unwelcome element of unpredictability for resort managers.
Skiing areas at low elevations face the worst forecasts. The US states of Connecticut and Massachusetts are home to a combined 17 skiing areas, and a study suggests that by 2039, none will sustain a viable skiing season — defined by industry as 100 days or more — even with artificial snow-making (J. Dawson and D. Scott Tourism Mgmt 35, 244–254; 2013). But at least 94% of the 18 resorts in the more northerly state of Vermont are projected to be viable until 2070 or beyond. A big difference is altitude: all the resorts in Connecticut and Massachusetts have a peak elevation below 750 metres, whereas 16 of those in Vermont exceed that, many by hundreds of metres.