Climate change - Why less snow leaves winter tourism cold
Although global warming is melting snow and ice in the Alps, winter tourism has not yet generated any turnover. But can the industry use artificial snow to conceal the consequences of climate change in the long term?
The Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) reported on 30 August 2018 that this year's meteorological summer brought 12 percent more sunshine than the average and was almost continuously very warm. 2.0 °C above the long-term average in the preliminary final evaluation, summer 2018 is in fourth place in the series of the warmest summers in Austrian measuring history since 1767," concretizes ZAMG climatologist Alexander Orlik. The trend towards hotter summers continues. "Among the ten warmest summers in the 252-year measuring history are six summers in recent years," adds Orlik. But even in the other seasons it remains warmer: this year's Skiopening in Kitzbühel took place on 13 October at more than 20 °C. "The weather was very warm," he adds. Nevertheless, visitors were able to ski on two artificially snowed pistes. Thanks to the snow cannons.
Natural snowfall line wanders upwards
Bizarre events like this show that climate change has arrived on all our doorsteps. There is no doubt that global warming is having a strong impact on tourism. Possible scenarios are summarized in the study "Climate Change and Tourism in Austria" published in 2015 by the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and the Economy (BMWF). The authors of the study assess the risks and dangers for snow-dependent winter sports tourism as very high. Looking at scenarios for the coming decades, the average temperature rise for winter in Austria is about 0.5 °C per decade. The natural snow line rises by 150 meters per 1 °C warming. The number of ski areas below the natural snow line would increase from 101 to 145 by 2030.
Winter fills the coffers of the tourist industry
So there is a lot at stake for Austria as a whole: more than half of the 25 billion euros generated annually by the Austrian tourism industry is earned in the winter season - although this is considerably shorter than the summer season. According to the Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, the industry provides 337,000 jobs and the cable cars alone employ around 100,000 people.
The conclusion drawn by the authors of the study "Climate Change and Tourism in Austria", however, is reassuring for tourism experts: thanks to snow-making systems, all ski resorts would de facto be able to guarantee their guests guaranteed snow in the coming decades. In an interview, climate researcher Marc Olefs even assumes that skiing pleasure will be guaranteed until 2050, even at low and medium altitudes.
So far, climate change has also had no effect on business with the Austrian ski winter. "In Austria's ski resorts, everything runs as usual", Franz Hörl, chairman of the Austrian Cable Car Association, told the trade magazine Hotel & Touristik that he was satisfied with the 2016/2017 ski season. The industry was also unable to complain about the following 2017/2018 season, and the winter sports resorts with lower locations in particular were able to achieve very good results.
Artificial snow reduces entrepreneurial risk
So can the economic effects of climate change be controlled by technology alone? Is a winter holiday marked by white snow bands in the midst of brown mountain landscapes really the future in the long term? Questions that are difficult to answer. What is certain is that the artificial snow guarantee is expensive. So far, Austrian cableways have invested billions in snow-making systems. According to climate researcher Olefs, technical snowmaking would have been necessary even without global warming. Because even in the past there would have been many cold winters with very little snow. Artificial snowmaking is therefore a welcome technical innovation for the tourism industry as a whole, enabling it to reduce its dependence on natural snow to practically zero. And it creates a new job profile: the snow master - or "snowman".
Skiing will become even more expensive
Climate change, however, increases the cost of snow security. The warmer it is, the higher the effort and cost to produce the same amount of snow. The winter holiday maker will have to bear these additional costs. A day pass already costs more than 50 euros in the major ski resorts. This high price level has meant that skiing in Austria has ceased to be a popular sport. According to a recent study by the Institute for Leisure and Tourism Research, 62 percent of the Austrian population never ski - 25 years ago the figure was 40 percent.
Sustainability of artificial snow is controversial
Ever wider sections of the population are attaching importance to sustainability. It is difficult to communicate its curves on artificially produced snow bands as ecologically prudent behavior. Some people stress that the energy required for this comes from sustainable sources such as water and the sun anyway. Others say that the green electricity needed for snowmaking comes from somewhere else. A study by the Styrian Joanneum Research even came to the conclusion in 2017 that the use of snow cannons mitigates the effects of climate change. However, other researchers have strong doubts about the results of the study.
Winter holidays without skiing
If skiing - at least for your own countrymen - is becoming less and less important, why continue to make it the main thing during your winter holiday? More and more tourist regions are asking themselves this question and offer many leisure activities and recreational opportunities off-piste. Of course for cross-country skiing, biathlon and tobogganing a certain amount of white is necessary - but by far not as much as for optimally prepared ski slopes. For other holiday activities such as a ride on a fatbike, a visit to a thermal spa or a torchlight hike, snow - whether natural or not - is not necessarily needed. In the battle for winter guests, tourism professionals are relying on ever more varied, sometimes even bizarre attractions.
Conclusio: Climate change - Why less snow leaves winter tourism cold
As a result of global warming, the natural snow in the lower-lying winter sports resorts is increasingly absent. Artificial snow on the slopes is already standard in many holiday regions today. Snow cannons would be in great demand even without climate change, because they would make the tourism industry less dependent on the uncertainty of the weather. But climate change will make skiing even more expensive. Skiing has long since lost its nimbus as a "popular sport". This is another reason why many winter sports resorts are already working on new offers that make a winter holiday attractive even without skiing.
Born and raised in Vienna. Since 2012 she has been in charge of Business Development at LEAD Innovation with the functions marketing, sales and communication.