Sun, Jul 21, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Swiss Alpine resorts grapple with climate change

Resorts are adding summer activities to stay viable as predictions say that even at 3,000m, pistes could see snow depths more than halved by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed

By Michael Shields  /  Reuters, AROSA, Switzerland

Illustration: June Hsu

The prospect of searing heatwaves driving holidaymakers to cool mountains and children asking grandparents about their memories of snow is focusing minds in Alpine ski resorts on the implications of climate change.

With global warming widely expected to slash snowfall, especially at lower levels, the Swiss tourism industry is looking for ways to preserve a lucrative business brutally exposed to the weather.

Enter Napa, Serbia’s last circus bear.

The Arosa ski resort in eastern Switzerland has created a US$6.5 million refuge hosting Napa and two other bears rescued from cages at restaurants in Albania to help draw summer visitors and reduce its reliance on skiers and snowboarders.

School classes, families and a group of army veterans celebrating an 80th birthday were visiting one recent summer day, helping the park toward what Arosa tourism director Pascal Jenny said was a target of 50,000 visitors this year.

Arosa has reinvented itself before — moving to winter tourism in the 1930s after decades as a health resort for tuberculosis patients.

However, with nearly 620,000 overnight stays in winter last year, more than three times the summer total — it will not be easy.

Jenny, who fears a sharp decline in snowfall over the next 20 or 30 years, is hedging his bets.

“What gives us some hope is that artificial snow is making strong technical advances. I can make snow now at 5 degrees [Celsius] above freezing,” he said, standing on an observation platform beside the Weisshorn cable car, which gives a sweeping view of the snow-capped Alpine valley.

His two-pronged approach highlights the dilemma faced by mountain resorts — how to retain profits as they embark on what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says needs to be a global rethink of tourism.

“The consequences of climate change will be felt across the travel and tourism sector over the coming decades,” the OECD, whose member countries represent 80 percent of the world’s trade and investment, said last year in a study of megatrends in tourism.

Storms, flooding and tidal surges will threaten coastal regions, southern destinations face extreme heatwaves and northern ones will see shorter periods of snowfall, it said.


Mountain resorts tend to be higher in Switzerland than in Austria or France, giving them better chances as snow becomes scarcer.

However, even at 3,000m, piste s could see snow depths more than halved by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed, said a report in The Cryosphere a peer-reviewed geosciences journal named after the frozen water parts of the Earth.

Resorts below 1,200m — as about a quarter of Alpine ones are — might get almost no snow, said the 2017 rep ort, whose title starts “How much can we save?”

Snow levels will gradually stabilize if global temperature rises are contained, it says.

Arosa is 1,775m up, but Jenny worries that a loss of snow in the lowlands will cost it visitors, because people will lose their emotional connection with snow.

“That is almost more dangerous for the sector,” he said.

Hence his interest in an industrial estate in Denmark, where Arosa is cooperating on a project to make artificial snow so that urban dwellers can learn to ski and then, he hopes, go on to hone their skills in the Alps.

The economics are clear: A daily lift pass for skiers in Arosa costs 79 Swiss francs (US$80.5), while a summer hiker or mountain biker typically pays SF18 for a pass that lets them use a rope park, a swimming area and paddle boats on the town’s lake.

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