Love spending your winter weekends skiing on the slopes? Your grandchildren may not be able to say the same. Winter weather is becoming a rarer experience all over the globe, and it’s having a profound effect on the ski industry as we know it.
Because of the effects of climate changes, winters are already 10 to 30 days shorter than they were in the 1960s. Temperatures stay cold for less time, which means it’s harder for snow to build up to levels worth skiing on.
Low elevation ski resorts are already struggling to get enough snow to stay open for a continuous 100-day ski season, and the altitude where they remain viable continues to rise. Some predictions show that by 2100 there will be almost no snow below 1,200 meters, which is the average elevation for ski towns today.
Not all ski resorts are at the same level at risk. The ones predicted to face the worst consequences from a warming climate tend to be in coastal cities and at lower latitudes or lower elevations. Here’s a sampling of ten ski destinations around the world that will likely look very different (if they exist at all) in the coming decades.
#1. Ski Zillertal 3000
Location: Zillertal, Austria
Average Annual Snowfall: 153.5 inches
Nestled between mountains in the Tyrol state of Austria, Ski Zillertal 3000 offers all skill levels of ski enthusiasts a taste of alpine winters (for now). Tyrol attracts over six million skiers every year, but the area’s mountain peaks max out at 1600 meters, meaning that future snow is starting to be in doubt.
This region is renowned for its alpine glaciers today, but they may soon become a memory. The alps have lost half the volume of their glaciers since 1900. Even worse, the pace of melting has accelerated since 1980, to the point that scientists expect them to be gone entirely by 2100. In fact, a 2013 climate change impact study found that fewer than half of the ski resorts throughout Tyrol can expect to have enough snow to open for the Christmas season by 2040—and less than 10% by 2100.
#2. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area
Location: Cornwall, Connecticut
Average Annual Snowfall: 62 inches
Built on the northwest slope of Mohawk Mountain in 1947, Mohawk Mountain Ski Area offers 26 runs for skiers and snowboarders. Unfortunately, its operations may be limited going forward, as even optimistic climate change models predict that southern New England ski areas will have such short seasons by 2040 that they won’t be economically viable.
New England as a whole is warming faster than almost anywhere else in the world—with Alaska the only exception. While annual precipitation is on the rise in the region (up 71% from 1958), fewer winter days are falling below freezing temperatures.
#3. Selwyn Ski Resort
Location: Canberra, Australia
Average Annual Snowfall: 36 inches
As one of Australia’s northernmost ski resorts, the Selwyn Ski Resort is suffering a one-two punch from climate change. This region is relatively dry and warm compared to the cooler, wetter south-western regions of the continent, which isn’t doing any favors for skiing.
Not only is Canberra dealing with decreasing snow levels every winter, but the resort itself was extensively damaged by the Black Summer bushfires, which prevented it from opening in both 2020 and 2021. Intense fire seasons like this are predicted to become more common throughout the Land Down Under as it battles increasingly dry and hot weather conditions.
#4. Abondance Ski Resort
Location: Abondance Village, France
Average Annual Snowfall: 220 inches
While Abondance Ski Resort boasts of trails reaching over 2000 meters, most of the ski terrain falls between 900-1500 meters—the elevation level researchers say is already experiencing the sharpest declines in annual snowfall. It’s one of many ski resorts within the Portes du Soleil ski area with low elevation trails that may only have a decade or two of economically viable ski seasons left.
In fact, the Abondance Ski Resort became the first in France to start shutting down due to lack of snow from climate change. The local city council voted 9-6 in 2007 to shut down the resort because it was bleeding money from the community. While Abondance reopened in 2009, its future remains bleak.
#5. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
Location: Mammoth Lake, California
Average Annual Snowfall: 205 inches
While Mammoth Mountain makes up one of California’s largest and most reliable ski areas, it’s not immune to a warming climate. This prime skiing space has one of the longest winter seasons in North America, but intense summer fire seasons and years of drought mean the mountain snowpacks aren’t getting refreshed each year, leading to less snow to ski on.
Dry years have become increasingly common since the 1970s, and resorts throughout Mammoth struggle to stay profitable when responsible for making the majority of their own snow. In light of these trends, the Mammoth region is expanding its tourist options to include non-winter activities, including hiking, ziplining, scenic gondola rides, and mountain biking.
#6. Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley
Location: Mt. Lemmon, Arizona
Average Annual Snowfall: 180 inches
As the southernmost ski destination in the continental US, it’s no surprise that the Mt. Lemmon ski season is shrinking by the year. It didn’t open at all for the winter of 2013-2014 and has limped along with intermittent skiing days since.
Reviews from skiers indicate that many people who visit in January (the height of winter) find the valley empty of snow. Today, the ski resort is transitioning to other outdoor activities, including hiking and a “Sky Ride” on the resort’s lift chairs.
Interestingly, temperature monitoring station reports indicate that the resort is experiencing slightly colder weather over the past few decades. But even so, the lack of precipitation isn’t enough to keep it viable over the winter.
#7. Hurricane Ridge Ski Area
Location: Olympic National Park, Washington
Average Annual Snowfall: 400 inches
The warm, wet conditions of the Pacific Northwest face unique challenges with climate change that will significantly impact the region’s ski industry.
As a whole, the mountains of Olympic, North Cascades, and Mount Rainier are heating up two to three times faster than the surrounding lowlands, and nighttime winter temperatures are the most affected. That’s because retreating glaciers produce more dark-colored ground to absorb the sun’s heat rather than reflect it back into space.
The Hurricane Ridge Ski Area is no exception. Located in the middle of Olympic National Park, the resort is combating rising temperatures and receding glaciers along with less snowfall each year.
#8. Cypress Mountain
Location, Vancouver, British Columbia
Average Annual Snowfall: 245 inches
Though it’s located in the heart of snowy Vancouver, the Cypress Mountain Ski Resort is not immune to climate change. As with the rest of the Pacific Northwest, warmer temperatures are causing the region’s glaciers to recede, and punishing summer fire seasons compromise ski trails and facilities.
While the resort is predicted to get more annual precipitation in the coming decades, temperatures will drop below freezing far less often, making it challenging for ski resorts even to supplement their slopes with artificial snow. By some reports, Vancouver’s weather will mimic the conditions in today’s San Diego by 2050. Even today, most coastal British Columbia ski resorts are operating at limited capacity and increasingly rely on manmade snow to keep any runs available.
#9. Hornlift Fröhnd (SC-Fröhnd) SKILIFT
Location: Fröhnd, Germany
Average Annual Snowfall: 100 inches
German ski resorts tend to be low altitude, which means they struggle against diminishing snow levels in the best conditions. But now, the country’s Black Forest region is feeling the pressure of a warming planet with an increase in summer rainfall, which triggers landslides and other devastating natural events that ruin ski trails and infrastructure.
Many German ski resorts, like Hornlift Fröhnd (SC-Fröhnd) SKILIFT, are increasingly limited to artificial snow to prolong shortening seasons. They are even implementing “snow farming” operations where freshly fallen snow is preserved with sawdust for use during lean times during the ski season.
#10. Ski Cloudcroft
Location: Cloudcroft, New Mexico
Average Annual Snowfall: 68.9 inches
Located approximately 100 miles from the Mexico border, Ski Cloudcroft boasts a base elevation of 8,400 feet (2,560 meters). Unfortunately, that’s not enough to protect the ski destination from the effects of New Mexico’s warming winters. The region has warmed almost 3.5 °F since 1970, which reduces the region’s mountain snowpacks and triggers earlier melting events each year.
These days, guest reviews indicate that it’s possible to visit the resort in the height of winter to find that only the bunny hills are open and that the surrounding landscape doesn’t contain even a hint of snow. In light of these challenges, the resort is increasingly branding itself as a summer destination for hiking and desert sightseeing.
How Ski Resorts are Fighting Back
The unfortunate truth is that many of the effects of climate change are locked in. Ski resorts can’t avoid the reality of a warming planet any more than the rest of us, so many are taking extreme steps to secure their businesses for future seasons.
Making more artificial snow is a common first step. Worldwide, ski resorts are installing reservoirs and miles of pipes to keep a water supply on hand. When temps get low enough, this water is vaporized by high-pressure nozzles so that it freezes and forms crystals that act like natural snow. Now, ski area operators start producing their snow as early as possible in the season in order to stockpile it in strategic spots along their routes for later dispersal by grooming machines.
But, while snowmaking is a short-term solution to keep trails skiable, it comes at an environmental cost. The machines that make snow are extremely energy-intensive, which can exacerbate the effects of global warming. Likewise, they tend to be disruptive to local ecosystems, including fragile tundra and streams. Snow machines powered by renewable energy may offer a more sustainable solution, but even this technology will only work if temperatures consistently stay below freezing—an increasingly rare prospect.
Beyond attempting to artificially prolong a shrinking ski season, many resorts are pivoting towards other forms of tourism to bring in enough money to remain viable. Popular options include hiking and mountain biking trails, aerial tours from the chair lifts, and even culinary experiences based around local, in-season ingredients.
Whether these pivots from skiing will be profitable enough to keep ski resorts in business remains to be seen. What’s clear, though, is that winter recreation will continue to become even more exclusive than it is now in the decades to come.