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Fading white Can ski resorts withstand climate change?

The crisp sound of snow underfoot, the thrill of a perfect glide, a relaxing après-ski – for many, these are the hallmarks of a magical winter vacation. But in the face of climate change, the future of ski resorts is in jeopardy.

In Kitzbühel, Austria, known as the “Queen of the Alps”, the pressure is palpable. Anton Bodner, CEO of Bergbahn AG, which operates the ski resort’s 57 lifts, sees snow as a “gift” from nature. The reality, however, is surprising: this year, the Hahnenkamm piste had to rely on artificial snow, resulting in unobstructed views of the brown slopes below.

Fading white Can ski resorts withstand climate change?

The figures are worrying. According to a forecast by Robert Steiger, an expert from the University of Innsbruck, 80 percent of Austria’s ski resorts will have enough snow by 2050, but this will come at a high price – a 100 percent increase in the amount of water used for artificial snowmaking. The consequences are uneven: some ski resorts will thrive, while others will struggle to survive even within two decades.

Faced with this stark reality, people reacted differently. Many, like Bodnar, hold out hope for artificial snowmaking, hoping to retain winter tourism through superior engineering skills. Others, like Werner Bätzing, see it as a dangerous gamble that will fuel brutal competition and neglect other sources of revenue.

But initiatives such as the EU’s Beyond Snow program offer a glimmer of hope, urging a rethink. Alpine Pearls, a group of eco-conscious resorts that promotes “soft tourism” such as alpaca trekking and tobogganing, offers visitors an alternative to skiing vacations.

Ruhpolding in Bavaria takes a pragmatic approach to using artificial snow on its cross-country ski trails. CEO Gregor Matjen sees this as a temporary solution, with plastic-padded trails having the potential to make the sport available all year round.

Kitzbühel is also exploring options outside of winter. Bodner envisions e-bike tours and other summer activities.

The future of the ski resort is at a crossroads. Clinging to the past, to a frozen utopia, could lead to harsh degradation. But embracing change, diversifying offerings, and recognizing the limitations of artificial solutions are all critical steps toward a sustainable future that will ensure the magic of the mountains endures even when it snows.

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