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Global warming 'could close half of Alpine ski resorts by 2050'
Wednesday, 03 December 2003
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More than half of all ski resorts in the Alps could be forced out of business in the next 50 years by rising temperatures, according to research published yesterday.

Low-lying slopes such as Kitzbuhel in Austria and Oberstdorf in Germany may receive so little snow over the next 30 to 50 years that skiing, snowboarding and toboganning cease to be viable winter industries. The warning comes in a study by the University of Zurich for the United Nations Environment Programme.

Its predictions are based on scientific estimates that temperatures will increase by between 1.4C (2.5F) and 5.8C (10.4F) during this century.

This is expected to raise the snowline by up to 1,000ft, jeopardising the future of resorts below 5,900ft. Conversely, those above 6,500ft may fall victim to more avalanches.

"Climate change will have the effect of pushing winter sports higher and higher up mountains, concentrating impacts on ever-decreasing areas," said Dr Rolf Burki, who led the project.

"As ski resorts in lower altitudes face bankruptcy, so the pressure on highly environmentally sensitive upper-altitude areas rises, along with the pressures to build new ski lifts and other infrastructure."

The research focused on Switzerland, where the loss of places such as Wildhaus and Unterwasser could cost the country 1 million a year through lost revenue.

However, experts say their findings are valid for the whole of the Alps. Most at risk are resorts in Germany and Austria, which tend to be lower than those in Switzerland. Italy is also likely to be seriously affected. Beyond Europe, Canada could suffer a decline, while Australia's nine resorts could all disappear this century.

Already some European banks are refusing to lend money to low-level resorts.

The researchers said that although many ski centres used snow-making equipment, warmer temperatures could make it uneconomical.

Their findings were presented at an international conference on sport and the environment in Turin, host city of the 2006 Winter Olympics.

"Climate change in the form of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts is the greatest challenge facing the world," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's executive director.

"But this study shows that it is not just the developing world that will suffer. Even rich nations are facing potentially massive upheavals with significant economic, social and cultural implications."

Betony Garner, a spokesman for the Ski Club of Great Britain, said the report made "sad reading".

She added: "We had such a warm summer and that has had an impact on the glaciers, which we will see this winter. We are trying to be optimistic but we have to consider that it might get warmer and snowfall may be affected."

By Graham Tibbetts



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