Many European ski resorts rely on guaranteed levels of snowfall in order to successfully operate. Resorts are graded upon their snowfall levels, temperature, and climate. A lack of snowfall and change in environment can cause great problems, harming the reputation and ultimately reducing visitor numbers. In order to address this threat, resorts need to focus on environmental sustainability.

Global warming poses a great threat

Some European ski resorts are facing serious threats from climate change. Those at lower altitudes are likely to feel the impact of climate change more than those at higher altitudes. Lower altitude resorts in the Alps could lose their reputations as being locations for high-quality skiing and may be set to suffer as a result.

Austrian environmental protection agencies have reported that the potential loss related to climate change is €300m a year to the tourism sector. Resorts on the outskirts of the Alps are at most risk from the impacts. This could create a higher demand for those resorts of a higher altitude, in Switzerland, for example, raising the cost of a trip there. Rising costs of an already expensive holiday option can make ski travel inaccessible to some, increasing the exclusivity of this type of travel in Europe.

The greatest risk is the shortening of the season

Climate change could mean that ski seasons start later and finish earlier. According to research by the University of British Columbia, by 2085, resorts in North America will have ski seasons shorter than 120 days if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed on a global scale.

Resorts in Europe highly depend on periods at the end of the season due to February half term. It is a lucrative time for resorts, where families with school-age children are most likely to take a ski trip. Due to this increase in demand, accommodation and transport costs to resorts increase, making it a valuable time of year for the ski industry.

The revenue-generating season for ski resorts is short compared to city or beach destinations, so further condensing the season is not favourable. Swiss ski resorts have reported a loss of over a month of snow coverage since 1970, with seasons starting on average 12 days later and ending 25 days earlier.

Methods to combat climate change may not be Covid-19-compliant

Transport methods to and from resorts are at blame for a large level of emissions associated with a ski holiday. There is encouragement in the industry for tourists to travel via low-emission public transport methods such as by train. Some tour operators are offering discounts if travellers don’t fly to the resort. It is a positive step, which should be replicated by other intermediaries that sell ski holidays as it helps to meet their own sustainability targets, as well as the industry’s as a whole.

Pre-Covid-19, these measures would have been well received. However, there is now a strong preference to travel in private vehicles over public transport due to fears over contracting Covid-19.

Sustainability will have to be more of a focus for ski resorts in the future in order to succeed in the long term. Climate change is a threat that has been growing for many years, however, the disruption that Covid-19 has brought has potentially put a pause on sustainability concerns from ski resorts. Measures to improve sustainability at present may not be Covid-19 safe. However, the hope that the impact of Covid-19 will subside in 2021 will mean that resorts will be able to shift their focus on sustainability once again.

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