Research article

Braving the elements

Climate change is affecting ski resorts across the world. Getting wise to the challenges and building resilience is key to the future success of the industry

Skiing and winter sports are dependent on the weather. The location of a resort, its altitude and average temperature all have an impact on the length of its season, and the reliability and amount of snowfall it receives.

Climate change has added uncertainty, bringing warmer atmospheric conditions and disrupting weather patterns. The northern hemisphere, for example, has lost one million square miles of spring snowpack since 1970, which is an area three times the size of Texas. A sustained rise in temperature will put lower altitude resorts at greatest risk. Even if emissions are dramatically controlled today, some damage is done already. Peripheral resorts may find themselves with ever shorter seasons and rapidly diminishing snow cover.

On this page, we look at the measures resorts are taking to adapt, and where they feature in our resilience index.

Val d'Allos, France

▲ Val d’Allos, France

Recent years: a mixed picture

Increasingly, the only consistent thing about annual snowfall is its inconsistency

The Alps

Throughout the Alps, there has been below-average early season snowfall for the last four years. In the run-up to the lucrative Christmas season, higher temperatures meant that snow fell as rain in low-altitude resorts.

On the flip side, additional precipitation fell as bumper amounts of snow in the highest altitude, colder resorts. Val d’Isère, Val Thorens and Ischgl all benefitted from good early snowfall last season.

Recent trends have started to change the dynamic of early season and Christmas skiing, with those looking for guaranteed snow focusing on the highest resorts.

Les Gets, France

▲ Les Gets, France

Mammoth Mountain, US

▲ Mammoth Mountain, US

North America

In contrast to the Alps, North America has experienced good conditions in recent years, with 110% of normal snowfall recorded in the Pacific Northwest in 2016/17, and 115% in the Northeast.

Californian resorts experienced exceptionally good seasons, with Squaw Valley and Mammoth seeing 158% and 174% of their usual snowfall respectively, allowing the latter to extend its season into August.

While this means better skiing and longer seasons, exceptional volumes of snowfall make reaching the resorts more difficult, and bring a greater risk of avalanches.

Responding to the challenge

From new snowmaking technology to diversifying activities and environmental awareness

Shorter, more inconsistent ski seasons have forced ski resorts and regions to adapt. The development of snowmaking technologies means that snow-starved slopes can be topped up (assuming temperatures are low enough), ensuring the availability of skiing even when conditions are poor. Austrian resorts alone have invested €1 billion in snowmaking in the past decade.

Resorts are doing their bit to reduce their carbon footprint and their own contribution to climate change. Vail resorts, for example, are actively managing their energy usage, finding the most efficient ways to groom the slopes, and installing solar power technology.

Indoor snow slopes, traditionally found in locations without any kind of natural skiing, are now being planned for ski resorts. Tignes, one of Europe’s highest resorts, plans to invest €62 million in a 400m-long indoor slope to enable skiing 365 days a year.

Big ski resorts are diversifying heavily into new activities. Water parks, spas, zip lines, golf and music festivals help balance demand between skiers and non-skiers, supporting more consistent operations throughout the year.

Lobby groups are on the rise, too. Organisations such as Protect Our Winters, set up by high-profile winter-sports enthusiasts, aim to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on the industry and influence policy across party lines at the highest level.

Zermatt, Switzerland

▲ Zermatt, Switzerland

Figure 1

FIGURE 1Most resilient resorts by country Based on the Savills ski conditions resilience index, below

Source: Savills World Research

Which resorts are most resilient?

Introducing the metrics behind Savills ski conditions resilience index

Reduced snowpack and shortened seasons take an environmental and economic toll on ski resorts.

Our ski conditions resilience index (below – click to expand) ranks major global ski resorts using five metrics to measure the quality and reliability of a resort’s conditions, and its resilience against climate change. The five metrics assess snowfall, reliability, season length, altitude and temperature.

Figure 2

FIGURE 2Savills ski conditions resilience index The resorts best placed to maintain quality skiing

Source: Savills World Research using OnTheSnow, Iglu Ski, national meteorological data

High-altitude, low-temperature resorts top the ranking. Zermatt, a north-facing, high-altitude resort with low average temperatures and a long season (thanks also to glacier skiing) will ensure it remains resilient in the future. Other resorts in the shadow of the Matterhorn, such as Saas-Fee and Breuil-Cervinia also score highly.

US resorts Vail and Aspen, at high altitude and benefitting from high levels of reliable snowfall, rank second and fourth.

With a 3,000m base, Chile’s Valle Nevado is the highest-ranking southern hemisphere resort.

The most reliable, high-altitude resorts are, by their nature, often the hardest to reach. For investors in ski property, there is a balance to be struck between accessibility from major transport nodes and the reliability and quality of skiing.

Obertauern, Austria

▲ Obertauern, Austria

Resilient resorts

How are resorts around the world investing to attract the next generation of skiers? From new infrastructure and partnerships to investment to mitigate climate change, these are the world’s resilient resorts and ski regions (click to expand)

Resilient resorts

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