Italy’s attempts to revive its snow-free ski slopes are failing.
Monte Cimone, a popular ski resort in the Italian Apennines, has invested 5 million euros in artificial snowmaking ahead of the winter season to try to avoid the impact of global warming. The money was largely wasted.
The snow cannons proved useless because the water droplets they shoot into the air need freezing weather to fall to the ground as snow. Until mid-January, the temperature never fell below zero Celsius.
“The ski lifts were closed, the ski instructors and seasonal workers had nothing to do and we lost 40% of our income over the whole season”, explains Luciano Magnani, manager of the local consortium of ski tourism the operators.
“It was the first time in 40 years that we were closed for the Christmas holidays.”
Why are Italian ski slopes particularly vulnerable to climate change?
Rising temperatures are threatening the ski industry worldwide, but Italy, with its many relatively low-altitude resorts in the Apennines as well as the Alpsis particularly affected.
Some 90% of Italian tracks are on artificial tracks snowcompared to 70% in Austria, 50% in Switzerland and 39% in France, according to data from Italian green lobby Legambiente.
The impacts threaten the local environment, economy and livelihoods.
Artificial snow compresses Italy’s water reserves
Rising temperatures in Europe are bringing drought and Italy can hardly afford the millions of cubic meters of water it uses every year to make snow.
Legambiente calculates that the annual water consumption of ItalyThe alpine slopes of may soon rise to a city of a million people, like Naples.
THE energy consumed by an ever-growing battery of snow cannons is also exorbitant.
The power needed to supply artificial snow to all the alpine resorts in Europe would be equivalent to the annual consumption of 130,000 families of four, explains Mario Tozzi, geologist and conservationist.
Is it time for Italian ski resorts to diversify?
The ski industry faces an imminent decision: to continue the battle in the hope that technological progress can overcome the effect of rising temperaturesor change the business model and look for other sources of tourism revenue.
While climatologists and even the Bank of Italy suggest the second course of action, most ski operators are defiant.
“Without skiing, mountain communities will lose their economic base and people will leave,” says Valeria Ghezzi, head of the Italian association of ski lift operators (Anef), which includes 300 companies and covers 90% of the market.
How big is the ski industry in Italy?
The economic stakes are important. The Italian ski sector directly or indirectly employs 400,000 people and generates a turnover of 11 billion euros, according to data from Anef, or around 0.5% of national production.
Italy has around 220 ski resorts with at least five ski lifts, which places it third in the world behind the United States and France, according to the 2022 International Report on Snow and Mountain Tourism. It also hosts the third largest number of foreign tourists behind Austria and France.
Italy is a world leader in artificial snowmaking
Italy started developing artificial snow cannons around 1990 after two almost snowless years in the Alps. He is now a world leader. One of its main producers, TechnoAlpin, supplied the 2022 Winter Olympics to beijing.
“At the end of the 1980s, nobody was talking about climate changebut instead of despairing, we showed the first and greatest form of resistance, we started building snow cannons,” says Ghezzi.
Ski manufacturing technology is constantly evolving. TechnoAlpin’s latest machine can produce snow at 10C. She is testing the device on the nursery slopes of Bolbeno, the lowest resort in Italy at just 600 meters above sea level.
Bolbeno Mayor Giorgio Marchetti said the snow it produced was “wonderful” and stayed on the ground even in hot weather. temperatures.
Italy is far from being the only one to give its all to preserve its winter skiing.
In December, the authorities of the Swiss resort of Gstaad used helicopters to deposit snow on a strategic but bare track connecting the ski areas of Zweisimmen and Saanenmoser, themselves supplied with artificial snow by cannon.
Are Italian ski resorts fighting a losing battle?
But increasingly desperate attempts to preserve the ski industry are attracting protests environmentalists.
Last month, activists with flags and banners gathered in Pian del Poggio, in the Italian Apennines, to protest against the installation of snow cannons at the 1,300 meter high station.
Five Spanish environmental groups are lobbying the European Union to block the use of 26 million euros of EU money to fund a project to join two ski resorts in the rapidly warming Pyrenees mountain range .
Some economists and climatologists claim that trying to maintain a low altitude Ski stations in business is doomed, and snowmaking only delays the inevitable.
“While artificial snow can reduce financial losses caused by occasional cases of snow-deficient winters, it cannot protect against long-term systemic effects. [climate] tendencies“, said researchers from the Bank of Italy in a report in December.
“In this context, adaptation strategies based on the diversification of mountain activities and incomes are crucial,” the report says.
Should companies in the Alps turn to summer activities?
The European Alps, where temperatures are rising faster than most parts of the world, will become increasingly popular in summer as Mediterranean beaches and towns become uncomfortably hot, climate and forecasts from tourism experts.
Giulio Betti, climatologist at the Italian National Research Council, says that ski between 1,000 and 2,000 meters will soon be “economically unsustainable”, and resorts should instead focus on attracting different types of holidaymakers.
A growing number of mountain communities have already followed the advice.
In the Piani di Artavaggio, a 1,600-meter-high resort 100 km north of Milan, authorities dismantled ski lifts 16 years ago while improving facilities to the hikersordinary mountain bikers and excursionists.
The village of Elva, whose 88 inhabitants live at an altitude of 1,600 meters in the Maira valley near the French border, has also abandoned ski lifts in favor of mountaineering and hiking.
The village has received 20 million euros in EU funds as part of Italy’s COVID-19 recovery plan, which Mayor Giulio Rinaudo says he will use to boost ecology tourism based on history, gastronomy and nature.
“Ski lifts and cable cars tie your hands and feet to the snow,” says Rinaudo. “We are trying to diversify.