After a record warm November delayed snowfall in the Alps, a new OECD report has warned that climate change poses "serious risks" to snow reliability in ski areas and could dramatically impact their economies.
Will skiing in the Alps become a thing of the past?
In the first systematic cross-country study of ski areas in the Alpine region, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, found that recent warming in the region, which is particularly sensitive to climate change, has been roughly three times the global average.
Of the countries studied, Germany is most at risk, the report by the Paris-based group said. An increase in temperature by one degree could lead to a 60 percent decrease in the number of naturally snow-reliable ski areas in Germany.
The skilift was empty at the Bavarian ski resort of Sudelfeld earlier this month
Austria -- where half the tourism income is from winter tourism -- is slightly above average, followed by Italy, France and Switzerland, which would suffer the least.
"The years 1994, 2000, 2002, and 2003 were the warmest on record in the Alps in the last 500 years," the report found, adding that climate projections show even greater changes in the coming decades.
At the moment, 90 percent of large Alpine ski areas normally have adequate snow cover for at least 100 days per year, the report said, but future climate change could mean a drop in the number of snow-reliable ski areas.
Ski operators are already adapting to rising snow lines and shorter winter seasons, mostly with technology rather than changing behavioral patterns.
Artificial snow environmentally damaging
Artificial snow is popular and cost effective for ski operators but consumes a lot of water and energy and can harm the landscape and ecology.
Making artificial snow will become more expensive as temperatures rise, and it will no longer be possible if the air becomes too warm, the report said.
Alpine tourism plays a key role in the economies of Alpine countries, with some 60 to 80 million tourists to the region each year, and a total of 160 million days recorded annually by ski lift operators in France, Austria, Switzerland and Germany.
Another ski event cancelled
Five World Cup ski races have already been cancelled this year
OPEC's warning came with the news of the cancellation of the women's slalom race in the France Alpine resort town of Megeve because of lack of snow.
The International Skiing Federation (FIS) has so far failed to name a replacement venue for the event, which was scheduled for Dec. 20.
Megeve is the fifth cancellation of the Alpine winter skiing season because of the unseasonably warm weather. Women's races in St. Moritz in Switzerland, men's and women's in Val d'Isere in France, as well as the traditional season-opener in Sölden in Austria at the end of October were all called off.