Alpine ski resorts hold crisis talks amid European heatwave

Alpine ski resorts have been plunged into crisis after half the slopes in France closed due to a winter heatwave in Europe. 

The unprecedented January ‘heat dome’ has produced temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 Celsius (50 to 68 Fahrenheit) from France to Western Russia – with several temperature records broken over the New Year weekend.

At least seven countries – including Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic – have seen their warmest January weather on record, while the Swiss resort of Adelboden recorded temperatures above freezing even at 6,500ft.

Frustrated skiers have posted videos slaloming down narrow slivers of ice flanked by grass and sharing their annoyance over the lack of snow on the slopes.

LE SEMNOZ, FRANCE: Stopped chairlifts are seen in a sky resort in Annecy last week amid the European heatwave that has forced dozens of ski resorts to close

LE SEMNOZ, FRANCE: The same Annecy ski resort is seen during a more snowy time in 2018

VILLARS-SUR-OLLON, SWITZERLAND: The chairlift of ‘Le petit chamossaire’ sits closed due to the lack of snow in an alpine resort on December 31

VILLARS-SUR-OLLON, SWITZERLAND: The same Swiss resort is seen during the snowy season

Patches of grass, rock and dirt were visible in some of Europe’s skiing hotspots – like Innsbruck in Austria, Villars-sur-Ollon and and Germany’s Lenggries. 

Resorts at lower-altitudes in France and Switzerland have been worst affected by the warmer weather and heavy rain, which has destroyed snowy slopes. Austria and Italy have slightly more favourable conditions but more snow is needed for skiing.

The heat dome – which is created when an area of high pressure stays over the same area and traps warm air underneath – has also sparked further warnings about climate change.

Many resort bosses are now in crisis talks about whether they can remain open, with The Times reporting that others are saying the ‘heartbreaking’ situation has forced them to close their slopes to skiers.

There are fears for the safety of guests, with doctors saying they are receiving the same number of skiing fall victims now as they would in Easter due to the conditions.

More than half of the resorts in France are now closed including at least ten in the French Pyrenees and scores in the Isère region of the French Alps. 

Yesterday the Swiss resort of Splugen-Tambo was the latest to shut in the country after the warmest New Years Day on record in some resorts. The resort of Adelboden recorded a temperature of 15C (59F).    

LENGGRIES, GERMANY: The unprecedented January ‘heat dome’ has produced temperatures ranging from 10 to 20 Celsius (50 to 68 Fahrenheit) from France to Western Russia – with several temperature records broken over the New Year weekend. Pictured: People ski up a thin sliver of snow using a T-bar lift in the German resort of Lenggries

LENGGRIES, GERMANY: The slopes of the same ski resort in Germany

LE SEMNOZ, FRANCE: Surrounded by melted snow, the Le Semnoz ski resort, near Annecy, stands empty last week as the winter heat wave hits Europe

LE SEMNOZ, FRANCE: People walk and practice cross-country skiing in the Semnoz ski resort in February last year, during more snowy times

AUSTRIA: Sparse snowfall and unseasonably warm weather in much of Europe is allowing green grass to blanket many mountaintops, rather than the usual snowy peaks. Pictured: The Bergisel ski-jumping hills in Innsbruck yesterday

A map from weather tracking website shows the unusually high temperatures across central and eastern Europe

As a result of the lower altitude resorts closing, those at higher altitudes are now bracing themselves for an influx of skiers hoping to catch some snow there.

An estimated 1.7 million Britons were set to ski this winter, according to travel trade body Abta, with the busiest period coming over the February half term.

Arnaud Lemercier, manager of the ski runs at a resort near Grenoble, described his ‘disappointment’ after being forced to close the slopes.

‘It’s heartbreaking. The slopes are no longer skiable. We reached the end,’ he told France 3 regional television.

‘This is the first time that we have opened the pistes only to close them again in the middle of the season. There is a lot of disappointment among the staff.’

He said the resort has taken mountain bikes out of storage as an alternative activity.

The shortage has been particularly difficult around Switzerland’s Adelboden, which is set to host World Cup skiing on Saturday, and generally draws 25,000 fans for a single day of racing.

Course director Toni Hadi said that the race will be run on 100 per cent artificial snow this year.

‘The climate is a bit challenging but what should we do here? Shall we stop with life?’ he asked.

Noting that other challenges such as the pandemic and war show ‘life is not easy’ these days, he added: ‘Everything is difficult – not only to prepare a ski slope.’

Wim Thiery, a professor of climate science at the University of Brussels, said the same jet stream that pulled cold air from the Arctic into the US has fanned warm air from subtropical zones into Europe. 

Warning about the impact of climate change, he called on people to cut the use of fuels that trap heat in the atmosphere.

‘By the end of the century [it’s] just going to be over… skiing in the Alps as we know it,’ he said. 

‘In the future, these problems will get worse because the snow will continue to melt as long as the climate warms.’  

Pictured: Skiers speed down an artificial snow slope flanked by grass in the alpine resort of Villars-sur-Ollon in Switzerland on Saturday

A video posted to TikTok from Switzerland shows snow-less slopes surrounded by grass as frustrated skiiers post footage sharing their annoyance over the conditions during the warm spell

Between France and Poland many parts of Europe were enjoying warmer weather – with Poland recording highs of more than 10C (50F) in recent days. It’s a sharp contrast to the freezing cold and blizzards in parts of the United States late last year.

Weather trackers described the heatwave as a historic event for Europe and expressed their shock at its magnitude. Many also said it was the latest example of extreme weather events being seen as a result of climate change.

Maximiliano Herrera, a climatologist who tracks global weather extremes, called the temperatures ‘totally insane’ and ‘madness’. He added that some of the temperatures observed were even uncommon in midsummer.

The heatwave is ‘the most extreme event ever seen in European climatology,’ Mr Herrera wrote. ‘Nothing stands close to this.’

Scott Duncan, a meteorologist based in London, wrote: ‘The intensity and extent of warmth in Europe right now is hard to comprehend.’ 

The top of the slopes at Le Semnoz ski resort, near Annecy, last week after the resort was forced to close temporarily due to the lack of snow

Immobile ski lifts in Annecy which saw high temperatures over the New Year weekend

People make their way through a snow covered landscape near the summit at the Nordkette in Innsbruck, Austria

On New Years Day, temperature records were broken in several countries.

In Poland, the town of Glucholazy hit 18.7C (66F) at 4am, warmer than the average low temperature in midsummer. Capital Warsaw hit 19C (66F) – demolishing the city’s previous January record of 5.1C (41F).

More than 100 records were broken across France, with Trois-Ville hitting 24.9C (77F) – also a record for January. Ohlsbach in Germany hit 19.4C (67F) while Bilbao in Spain saw its hottest day ever in January with highs of 25.1C (77F).

Swiss state forecaster MeteoSuisse pointed to some of the hottest temperatures ever this time of year. A weather station in Delemont, in the Jura range on the French border, hit a record average daily temperature of 18.1C (65F) on the first day of the year. Other cities and towns followed suit with records.

MeteoSuisse quipped on its blog: ‘This turn of the New Year could almost make you forget that it’s the height of winter.’

Forecaster Anick Haldimann said a persistent weather system that brought in warmer air from the west and south west has lingered, locking in warmer temperatures expected to last through the week. 

While slopes above 6,500 feet have gotten snow, lower down she said that ‘the order of the day is patience’ for skiiers.

One of the most severe winter heatwave in Europe’s modern history visualized over the last 2 days. Hundreds of monthly warm temperature records were broken all over the continent. This is exactly the kind of very abnormal event that is progressively rewriting global climatology.

— Nahel Belgherze (@WxNB_) January 1, 2023

The Patscherkofel winter sport resort near Innsbruck yesterday

Hikers walk past a stopped chairlift at Le Semnoz ski resort, near Annecy, last week

It comes after Switzerland and France recorded their hottest year on record in 2022.

The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organisation says the past eight years are on track to be the eight warmest on record. Its final tally on global temperature figures for 2022 will be released in mid-January.

In France, national weather agency Meteo-France said 2022 ended with some of the warmest weather the country has ever experienced – capping an exceptionally warm 12 months that saw temperature records broken and rampant forest fires and drought conditions.

Meteo-France says the southern Alps and slopes above 7,000ft in the northern Alps, have seen close to normal snowfalls. But snow is notably lacking at lower altitudes in the northern Alps and across the Pyrenees.

Meanwhile some of the best snowfall has been reported in the Italian Dolomites, to the south of the Swiss Alps.

Early in the ski season, fortunes looked bright for snow lovers. In France, freezing weather into mid-December raised hopes that ski resorts in the Alps and the Pyrenees might see plenty of early snow and the sub-zero temperatures needed to keep runs open.

Laurent Reynaud, of the Domaines Skiables de France industry group that represents French ski resorts, told C-News television: ‘There was a good start to the season with a cold wave in mid-December which provided some white to pretty much everyone. Then, last week, there was quite a bit of rain and warm temperatures, so a certain number of runs had to close again.’

Germany too has seen unusually spring-like temperatures – as high as 16C (61F) in parts of the country yesterday. New Year’s Eve is believed to have been the warmest since reliable records began. 

The German Weather Service reported readings of 20C (68F) and above at four weather stations in southern Germany.

2022 will turn out to be warmest year on record for the UK, says Met Office 

2022 will turn out to be the warmest year on record for the UK, the Met Office has said. 

The average temperature for the whole of this year is on track to beat the previous all-time high of 9.88C (49.8F) set in 2014, the provisional data shows.

The exact figure will be confirmed in the new year but the Met Office is confident 2022 will set a new 139-year annual mean temperature record. 

Since records began in 1884, all ten years with the highest annual UK temperature have occurred since 2002

It has blamed the ‘persistence of warmer than average conditions’ throughout the year, while the record-breaking heatwaves in July also bumped up the average. 

If the provisional data is correct, 2022 will sit at the top of the list of highest UK average temperature since records began in 1884. 

Currently, the years making up that list are, in order, 2014, 2006, 2020, 2011, 2007, 2017, 2003, 2018, 2004 and 2002.

Met Office also said UK temperatures in 2022 remained above average for every month of the year except December, which has been cooler than average so far. 

2022 has seen the coldest first two weeks of December since 2010 – an ‘anomalously cold start’ to the month. 

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