A dusting of snow at the weekend brought some relief to anxious European ski resorts, where snow-making machines are out in force when it’s cold enough.
Unusually warm weather in November and December has delayed the start of the ski season and forced the cancellation of World Cup races at venerable resorts including Val d’Isere in France and Switzerland’s St. Moritz.
The balmy temperatures, estimated to be the warmest seasonal reading in the past 1,300 years in the Alpine region, have added to climate change worries amid reports of fast-melting glaciers and disrupted weather conditions across the globe.
“Everybody is happy that it has snowed. The whole atmosphere is more relaxed, it feels less stressed although the conditions are not totally perfect yet,” said tourism official Joerg Romang from the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.
At Verbier, in the Valais region, some high-altitude resorts are open and spokesman Pierre-Yves Deleze said the four-valley ski station could open soon if temperatures stay low.
The nearby Villars resort is planning for a full opening on Dec. 23 and using the recent dip in temperature to make artificial snow, said marketing manager Guy Chanel.
“We are not very worried. We know that the snow will come,” Chanel said. “We have enough snow to work the pistes, and we can make snow now.”
Hiking and other activities not requiring substantial snow are also being touted in Austria, where fake snow production is being ramped up to prepare the pistes for the Christmas holiday.
“A lot of fake snow is being produced right now,” said a spokeswoman for Austria’s cable car association, estimating that more than half of the country’s ski hills can be covered with fake snow if outside temperatures are cold enough.
Skiers can find natural snow further north in Scandinavia, but conditions vary widely. Some resorts are yet to open and others have far less snow than normal.
The Norwegian resort of Trysil opened on Nov. 4, but much of the snow melted in late November. Hafjell, host of slalom events at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, is struggling with no snow at the bottom of the mountain and temperatures still too high to make artificial snow.
The Swedish ski resort operator Skistar has given notice to 250 employees at its downhill skiing resort in Salen, near the Norwegian border, due to a lack of snow.
But Jonas Mareniusson, head of the Salen resort, is sure the snow will come, saying he has skied at Salem every “Christmas since 1978, and I intend to do it this year as well”.