December 2, 2003
U.N. Reports Warming Effects on Ski Areas
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 6:47 p.m. ET
TURIN, Italy (AP) -- Global warming is threatening the world's ski
resorts, with melting at lower altitudes forcing the sport to move
higher and higher up mountains, according to a United Nations study
Downhill skiing could disappear altogether at some resorts, while at
others, a retreating snow line will cut off base villages from their
ski runs as soon as 2030, warned the report by the U.N. Environment
``Climate change is happening now. We can measure it,'' said Klaus
Toepfer, executive director of the U.N. program. ``This study shows
that it is not just the developing world that will suffer.''
The report focused on ski resorts in Austria, Italy, Switzerland,
Australia, the United States and Canada, using temperature forecasts
produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of
some 2,000 scientists.
The panel estimated temperatures will rise by a range of 2.5 degrees
to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 unless dramatic action is taken to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
An accord aimed at halting global warming, meanwhile, may be dead. A
top Kremlin official said Tuesday that Russia won't ratify the Kyoto
Protocol limiting greenhouse gas emissions because it will hurt the
The United States rejected the accord for the same reason. Without
Moscow, the protocol cannot come into effect even if approved by
every other nation because only Russia's industrial emissions are
large enough to tip the balance.
Many scientists believe that carbon dioxide and other so-called
``greenhouse'' gases trap heat in the atmosphere.
``It appears clear that many resorts, particularly the traditional,
lower altitude resorts of Europe, will be either unable to operate as
a result of lack of snow or will face additional costs, including
artificial snowmaking, that may render them uneconomic,'' the report
U.N. officials presented their findings at an environmental
conference of the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, hosted by
organizers for the Turin 2006 Olympics.
The findings prompted Pal Schmitt, head of the committee's Sport and
Environment Commission, to say that global warming will ``probably
affect how the IOC chooses host cities for future Winter Games.''
Schmitt said that the IOC still prefers new candidate cities, but it
may be forced to return to sites of recent games to avoid having to
build structures that could be obsolete in the near future.
The magic number for ski resorts right now is an altitude of 4,265
feet, according to Rolf Buerk, an economic geographer at the
University of Zurich who led the research behind the report.
At that level and above, there is reliable snowfall. In the future,
however, global warming is going to push the regular snowfall
altitude to between 4,900 feet and 6,000 feet, Buerk said.
``In Switzerland, several low-lying resorts are already having
problems getting bank loans,'' he said.
One likely casualty is the scenic Austrian village of Kitzbuhel,
Buerk said. The village is 2,493 feet above sea level and will
eventually be cut off from its ski slopes. That's because, according
to the report, Austria's snow line is expected to rise by 656 to 984
feet over the next 30-50 years.
The director of Kitzbuhel's tourism office was not immediately
available for comment, but other ski resort areas expressed concern.
``We see this as a long-term threat,'' said Eduardo Zwissig,
marketing manager of the upscale Swiss resort at Gstaad, which is at
3,465-foot level and has skiing from 4,950 to 9,900 feet.
He said authorities are looking for ways to ``minimize economic
risk,'' with plans including new hiking trails that can be used in
summer and winter, as well as convention centers.
Asked about Swiss banks' reported wariness to lend money to resorts,
Zwissig said: ``We certainly feel this pressure.''
Doris Scholl, of Grindelwald Tourist Office in Switzerland, said the
resort was actively trying to expand non-skiing alternatives. But,
she said, there have been investments in new ski lifts this year and
more are planned.
``The situation isn't as tragic as that,'' Scholl said.
Buerk, the economic geographer, said artificial snow is not the
``The main reason is it's too expensive,'' he said, explaining that
it costs $600,000 in installation fees and $60,000 each year for each
mile of artificial snow. ``And if it's warmer than (freezing), it
requires a lot of energy,'' Buerk added.
Researchers behind the U.N. study said they hoped the report would
spur resorts into action.
And David Chernushenko, a scientist on the climate change panel based
in Canada, cited examples in North America where resorts have begun
to take steps to be more environmentally friendly.
The ``Sustainable Slopes'' program in Aspen, Colo., is a ``world
leader in running efficient ski centers,'' with a new ski lift run
entirely on power generated by windmills, he said.
In Whistler, British Columbia, site of alpine events for the 2010
Olympics, the ``entire town (is) moving toward environmental
conservation,'' he said.
Ultimately, however, Chernushenko said the onus was on governments.
``The ski, hotel and resort industry is a multinational one,'' he
said. ``And if they act together they can apply pressure on
On the Net:
U.N. Environment Program: http://www.unep.org
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