Which Ski Resorts Can Afford to Survive Climate Change?

Ski Resorts’ Survival Strategies in the Face of Climate Change

In Europe, the world’s largest ski market, some of the most popular winter sports destinations are showing that they are prepared to go to great lengths to stave off the impacts of climate change. From France to Switzerland, Spain and Austria, helicopters and trucks have been spotted dumping snow over the barren slopes of European ski resorts. This is a costly and energy-intensive process, but for resorts that can afford it, it may be the key to survival.

Compagnie du Mont-Blanc SA, based in the iconic town of Chamonix in France, is one such resort. With most slopes over 2,000 meters above sea level and not far from Le Grand-Bornand, the resort is well-positioned to weather the impacts of global warming. The company, France’s second-largest ski resort operator by revenue, is still recovering from two consecutive winters impacted by coronavirus restrictions. In the year to May 2022, it reported a net income below 2019 levels, but it was still three times higher than a decade ago. Its bigger rival in France, Compagnie des Alpes SA, which owns amusement parks as well as ski resorts, also reported healthier post-Covid earnings in 2022.

Mathieu Dechavanne, chief executive officer at Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, says that the resort is seeing a shift in its customer base. “We are picking up the people who used to ski in lower-altitude stations and now want to minimize the risk that there won’t be any snow there,” he explains. The resort’s investment in snowmaking and other technologies has helped to ensure that it can operate for decades to come. In fact, the company recently renewed its contract to operate in the mountain for the next 30 years, through 2054.

But not all ski resorts are as fortunate. According to a study by researchers at Université Grenoble Alpes, some ski areas in the French Alps and Pyrenees below 2,000 meters above sea level may not get enough natural snow to operate in the coming decades. In fact, for almost every resort across the planet, the key to survival has been snowmaking. Slippery Slopes, a report on climate change and the Olympics by a researcher at Loughborough University in the UK, found that 95% of ski resorts globally rely on artificial powder to ensure good skiing conditions or to prolong the season.

As energy costs rise and drought limits access to water, the costs of snowmaking are becoming increasingly prohibitive. French resorts, for example, have been collectively spending between 40 and 65 million euros ($42 and $69 million) — or between 12% and 18% of their annual investments — on snowmaking every year in the past decade, according to data by industry group Domaines Skiables de France.

In the face of these challenges, ski resorts will need to continue to innovate and adapt to ensure their survival. As the average temperature of the world continues to increase, there is a possibility that global snow cover could be reduced by 8%. Therefore, ski resorts will need to explore new ways to create and maintain snow, such as through artificial snowmaking, as well as diversify their offerings beyond traditional winter sports.

This could include adding summer activities such as mountain biking or zip-lining, or developing year-round attractions like spas or water parks. Additionally, ski resorts can also focus on reducing their carbon footprint and promoting sustainable practices to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Ultimately, the survival of ski resorts will require a combination of creative thinking, flexibility, and a commitment to sustainability.