European ski resorts fear melting profits

Sam Eaton Dec 13, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: For fans of the Alpine Ski World Cup — the world’s premier ski racing event outside of the Olympics — this season has been a major disappointment so far. The event opener in Austria was rained out. And organizers are scrambling to find ski areas in the Alps with enough snow to hold upcoming competitions. Many have been cancelled altogether. And according to a new climate report out today this is only be the tip of the iceberg — so to speak — for Europe’s thawing slopes. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.

SAM EATON: The records being set in European ski towns these days have to do with the weather — not skiing competitions. November was the warmest month on record for many resorts and a string of recent years were the warmest in five centuries. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the future is even grimmer. Shardul Agrawala is with the organization’s climate program.

SHARDUL AGRAWALA: Already under current conditions there’s a significant percentage of ski areas which are not reliable. I think the percentage we have is about 10 percent of the total number of ski areas we looked at. And when you look at the future the decline in the number of ski areas which might continue to be sno- reliable is certainly quite alarming.

Alarming not because of the diminished skiing per se, but the economic engine it fuels. Tourism in the Alps generates nearly 70 billion dollars a year. In Austria winter tourism accounts for four and a half percent of the nation’s GDP. Michael Gigl with the Austrian Tourist Office says climate change is already digging into those revenues.

MICHAEL GIGL: Clearly we had to postpone the opening of some of the major ski areas and ski resort areas on top of the World Cup races in all of Europe, not just Austria. And that of course has an impact.

Financial organizations are beginning to take notice as well. According to the OECD report, Swiss banks are now refusing to lend money to ski resorts at altitudes lower than five thousand feet.

I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

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