MONTE CIMONE, Italy (Reuters) – Monte Cimone, a popular ski resort in Italy’s 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 cannon proved useless because the water droplets they shoot into the air need freezing weather to fall to the ground as snow, and until mid-January the temperature never went below zero Celsius (32 Fahrenheit).
“The ski lifts were closed, the ski instructors and seasonal workers had nothing to do and we lost 40% of our income for the whole season,” said Luciano Magnani, head of the local consortium of ski tourism operators. .
“It was the first time in 40 years that we were closed for the Christmas holidays.”
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Rising temperatures are threatening the ski industry worldwide, but Italy, with its many relatively low-altitude resorts in the Apennines as well as the Alps, is particularly hard hit.
Some 90% of Italian pistes rely on artificial snow, compared 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.
Rising temperatures in Europe are causing drought and Italy can ill afford the millions of cubic meters of water it uses each year to make snow.
Legambiente calculates that the annual water consumption of the Italian alpine slopes could soon reach that of a city of one million inhabitants, 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, said Mario Tozzi, a geologist and conservationist.
The ski industry faces a looming decision: continue the battle in the hope that technological progress can overcome the effect of rising temperatures, or change the business model and seek other sources of tourist 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,” said Valeria Ghezzi, head of the Italian association of ski lift operators (Anef), which includes 300 companies and covers 90% of the market.
The economic stakes are important. The Italian ski sector directly or indirectly employs 400,000 people and generates a turnover of 11 billion euros (11.92 billion dollars), according to data from Anef, or around 0.5% of the national production.
Italy has around 220 ski resorts with at least five ski lifts, ranking 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 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 in Beijing.
“At the end of the 1980s, nobody was talking about climate change, but instead of despairing, we showed the first and greatest form of resistance, we started building snow cannons,” Ghezzi said.
Ski manufacturing technology is constantly evolving. TechnoAlpin’s latest machine can produce snow at 10 C (50 F). He is testing the device on nursery tracks in Bolbeno, the lowest resort in Italy at an altitude of just 600 meters (1,970 feet).
Bolbeno Mayor Giorgio Marchetti said the snow produced was “wonderful” and stayed on the ground even in hot weather.
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.
But increasingly desperate attempts to preserve the ski industry are sparking protests from 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 argue that trying to keep ski resorts low is doomed to failure, and snowmaking only delays the inevitable.
“Even though artificial snow can reduce financial losses associated with occasional cases of snow-poor winters, it cannot protect against long-term systemic (climatic) trends,” say 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.
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 get uncomfortably hot, climate and tourism experts predict.
Giulio Betti, a climatologist at Italy’s National Research Council, said skiing between 1,000 and 2,000 meters will soon be “economically unviable” 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 100km north of Milan, authorities dismantled ski lifts 16 years ago while improving facilities for ordinary hikers, mountain bikers and day-trippers .
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 European funds under Italy’s COVID-19 recovery plan, which Mayor Giulio Rinaudo says he will use to boost eco-tourism based on history, gastronomy and nature .
“Ski lifts and cable cars tie your hands and feet to the snow,” Rinaudo said. “We are trying to diversify.
(Writing by Gavin Jones; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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