Italy’s ski resorts face a future without snow

Italy’s ski resorts face a future without snow

When other skiers sent Amadeo Reale photos of churned-up mud and grassy slopes at his French and Swiss ski resorts last week, he shuddered in sympathy but had no foreboding. As president of Cortina d’Ampezzo’s historic Sci Club 18, he’s confident that Italy’s premier ski resort in the Dolomites is pretty much immune to the snowless apocalypse that emptied Europe’s top ski destinations over the winter holidays. After all, most European resorts are located between 900 and 1,000 meters (2,952 to 3,280 feet) above sea level. Cortina d’Ampezzo begins at 1,600 meters (5,249 ft) and ascends to 2,362 m (7,749 ft). Even if the lower slopes get a bit muddy due to above-average temperatures, as they did last week, well, there’s always fake snow. Cortina d’Ampezzo will host the women’s ski world championship this weekend and, after five days of low temperatures and the constant effort of the resort’s snow cannons, the slopes are in perfect condition, Reale says.

Much depends on a constant snow cover. In February 2026, Cortina d’Ampezzo will host the downhill events of the Winter Olympics, and Reale is confident that there will be plenty of snow (natural or artificial) and enough cold weather to keep it going. But artificial snow is only a stopgap solution, and an expensive one at that. Snow guns only work in temperatures below zero or below. “The only thing that scares us is having a month or two of hot weather,” he says, which is unlikely at the complex’s elevation, at least for the foreseeable future.

Visitors ride the chairlift to the top of Mount Miletto in San Massimo, Italy.  (Manuel Dorati)

Visitors ride the chairlift to the top of Mount Miletto in San Massimo, Italy.

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Visitors have lunch atop a snow-free Mount Miletto in Italy.  (Manuel Dorati)

Visitors have lunch atop a snow-free Mount Miletto in Italy.

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However, during the winter holidays, most of the resorts in Europe got a taste of that much warmer future: the Swiss resort of Gstaad ended up flying a helicopter over the snow from other parts of Switzerland when temperatures reached 20°C. (68°) in early January. It’s not the first time that Europe’s ski resorts have run out of snow, but it’s the first time that snow cannons, at least since they were first deployed in the 1980s, were unable to make up the shortfall due to the high temperatures. This drove home the reality of snowless winter for resorts and skiers alike.


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Winter sports have become a major economic engine for alpine towns that have bet their fortunes on regular snow and the skiers who seek it every year, spending hundreds of dollars a day on lift fees, hotels, restaurants and equipment rental. When there is no snow, there are no tourists and no income. Rolando Galli says his ski lift operation, in the Italian Apennines resort of Abetone, is down 2 million euros ($2.15 million) compared to this time last year, due to a lack of snow this season. For the area as a whole, he estimates it is about 10 million euros ($10.7 million) in lost income from accommodation, restaurants and shopping.

While temperatures have dipped back below freezing in most of Europe’s alpine regions this week, the weather trajectory suggests muddy ski slopes will become a regular part of the future. The region has already averaged a 2°C rise in temperatures since pre-industrial times, compared to 1.2°C globally. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any snow, in fact, there could be more periods of excessive snow, interspersed with periods of rain or even hot days: extreme weather variations are as much an effect of climate change as rising average temperatures. . That doesn’t bode well for businesses, like ski resorts, that rely on reliable conditions.

Campitello Matese, a popular ski resort in south-central Italy, is unable to receive skiers this season due to high temperatures and a lack of snow.  (Manuel Dorati)

Campitello Matese, a popular ski resort in south-central Italy, is unable to receive skiers this season due to high temperatures and a lack of snow.

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Visitors have lunch outside the Campitello Matese ski resort, where skiing and other winter sports were not available in early January 2023. (Manuel Dorati)

Visitors have lunch outside the Campitello Matese ski resort, where skiing and other winter sports were not available in early January 2023.

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Even if it dumps snow for the rest of the season, Galli says, there’s no way to make up for this year’s lost revenue. He has already diversified his business model by operating lifts in the summer for hikers and vacationers, which helps, but for the winter there aren’t many options. He tried to run the lifts even without snow this year, but not many tourists were willing to brave the mist and rain for little more than a look at the tip of their noses when they reached the top of the mountain. “It’s not like climate change means hot weather and beautiful views at 1,500 meters above sea level in December,” he says. Until he does, the only solution to save the industry, he says, is to use artificial snow as much as possible to help people ski in the winter. Resorts further south may not even be able to bank on artificial snow for years to come. The ubiquitous snow cannons at Campitello Matese, one of the largest and most popular ski resorts in south-central Italy, came to a standstill earlier this month due to persistent high temperatures. There, at least, aspiring skiers were able to move on to more typical summer activities like quad biking and horse riding.

Reale, in Cortina d’Ampezzo, says northern Italy’s resorts will be spared from that fate, at least in the short term. “We all know that global warming is serious, but for the future of skiing in Cortina, I don’t think there will be any problem, especially with artificial snow.”

In the longer term, it is not so clear. A 2022 study published in the journal Current Issues in Tourism, predicted that of the 21 cities, including Cortina d’Ampezzo, that have hosted the Winter Olympics since 1924, only a few will offer safe and fair conditions for competition by mid-century under current greenhouse gas emissions scenarios . Even under a low emissions scenario in line with the Paris climate agreement goals to keep warming below 1.5°C from the pre-industrial zone, Cortina d’Ampezzo only qualifies as “marginal” for downturn events in the 2050s; without emission reductions, it is rated as unacceptable. (Of all the previous hosts, only Sapporo in Japan is considered a reliable bet for the 2078 or 2082 games in either broadcast scenario.)

Last year, the International Olympic Committee delayed the naming of a host for the 2030 Winter Olympics, saying it is now considering rotating the event among multiple hosts in response to the impact of climate change on winter sports. Last week, the organizers of the Ski World Cup Championships were forced to cancel this year’s men’s downhill and giant slalom events in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, due to a lack of snow and an “unfavorable weather forecast”. for January 28 and 29. dates.

The snowless summit of Mount Miletto cannot withstand even artificial snow due to the high temperatures.  (Manuel Dorati)

The snowless summit of Mount Miletto cannot withstand even artificial snow due to the high temperatures.

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The Italians are taking note. “Take off your blinders: the future of skiing does not exist, and those who work in tourism must accept it,” shouted a January 12 headline in the Italian digital newspaper. Linkiesta, pointing to pessimistic studies predicting the end of skiing in the Dolomites as early as 2036. Marco Bussone, president of the Union of Mountain Communities of Italy, told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera that it was vital that winter sports meccas start investing in summer activities. “We need to reflect on which mountains [mean] today in light of climate change.”

While no one is ruling out winter sports just yet, a fuller adoption of summer options is probably a good business strategy. In addition to running ski lifts and running mountain lodges during the summer, Galli, who is also president of the Abetone tourism board and a board member of the National Ski Lift Association, suggests that the government and mountain communities invest in reservoirs. In winter they can provide water for the increased use of snow cannons, and in summer they could become tourist destinations for fishing, boating, and sightseeing. And, anticipating another symptom of a changing climate, they also provide water to fight forest fires. “Climate change is something we have to deal with,” he says. “We can’t just bury our heads and ignore it.”

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