Warmer winters, shrinking snow seasons and the retreat of ancient glaciers are no longer distant threats to the ski industry.

For decades, winter enthusiasts have flocked to the mountains, strapping on skis or a snowboard to carve through the snowy landscapes. While skiing may be perceived as a luxury pursuit, its impact on alpine regions extends beyond recreation. The economic contributions are far from negligible; consider, for instance, that the ski season alone contributes a substantial 7% to the European Union’s tourism industry.

Accounting for 43% of skier days globally, it’s fair to say that the Alps are the beating heart of the ski industry. But for how much longer? 

By some estimates, the Alps could lose as much as 70% of snow coverage by the end of the century if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2C. Couple that with a shorter season — appropriate levels of snowfall could start up to a month later, according to research — and it appears the industry could be at the start of a slippery slope (pun, most definitely, intended).

It was with this in mind that ski tour operator Ski Vertigo set out to identify those resorts most vulnerable to a warming climate.

The analysis specifically identified that resorts at lower altitudes face a higher risk. As you might expect, lower elevations are warmer, meaning that they will receive more rain in place of snow — the essential ingredient for a good ski season. 

The study also highlights that retreating glaciers at lower elevations means there is less meltwater for use in artificial snow production in lieu of real snowfall, and that increasing temperatures make this already energy-intensive process even less efficient.

According to the findings, five well-known resorts are especially vulnerable:

“1. Chamonix, France

Home to Mont Blanc and legendary extreme runs, Chamonix (1,040m) embodies Alpine skiing. Yet, its low altitude and glacier dependence paint a grim picture. Studies predict a 70% snow cover loss by 2100, threatening the future of the Mer de Glace and iconic runs like the Vallée Blanche. This could spell doom for winter tourism and the community’s economic lifeline.

2. Cervinia, Italy

Nestled beneath the Matterhorn’s watchful eye at 2,000m, Cervinia offers luxury and breathtaking views. However, its reliance on meltwater from lower glaciers for snowmaking rings alarm bells. As these glaciers retreat, water resources dwindle, jeopardising the future of its world-class slopes and glamorous après-ski scene.

3. St. Moritz, Switzerland

This haven for royalty and high rollers at 1,856m boasts Olympic legacy and impeccable slopes. But warmer winters and erratic snowfall are shortening its legendary season, impacting its appeal as a playground for the elite. Businesses face uncertainty, and the future of glamorous winter events like the White Turf horse race hangs in the balance.

4. Madonna di Campiglio, Italy

Renowned for its stylish slopes and vibrant nightlife, this 1,550m resort attracts skiers and partygoers alike. However, reduced snowfall and shorter seasons are disrupting its reputation as a lively winter escape. The iconic “3 Tre” run may soon become a victim of warming temperatures, silencing cheers as quickly as they erupt.

5. Megève, France

This charming village resort at 1,123m captivates with its elegant atmosphere and picturesque setting. But warmer winters and inconsistent snow cover threaten its future as a winter wonderland. The iconic Mont d’Arbois, known for its gentle slopes and stunning views, may become inaccessible, silencing the jingle of sleigh bells and dampening the festive spirit.”

Looking ahead

For many people, the demise of the ski industry might feel like an insignificant casualty of the climate crisis, especially when compared to the imminent dangers posed to those living in the Global South, for example. 

Indeed, an expanding ski industry often leads to deforestation and unsustainable land use as resorts scramble for space on the mountainside. Perhaps this land, even if less snowy, is better left to nature?

But for those who do look forward to a holiday in the snow each winter and are concerned that this simply won’t be possible in the future, maybe now is the time to consider our impacts on the planet and how we can reduce them.

On an individual level, considering how you travel to the slopes can at least help to avoid contributing to the problem. Europe has great transport links, which negate the need for flying if you have time.

While the ski tourism industry brings economic prosperity to the Alps, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the mountains are just as nice when not covered in snow. Where resorts adapt to facilitate new activities, they can still thrive.

“On warmer days, or when the snow is less than perfect,” says Alex Dyer, head of customer success at Ski Vertigo, “explore other mountain activities such as hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing. These sports also offer great ways to enjoy the winter landscape while reducing pressure on snow-dependent resources.”

Ultimately, individual action can only take us so far. So, if you’re a ski bum with intentions of still being one 15 years from now, your best bet is to advocate for climate action everywhere you can, be it in the polling booth or on the street.