(CNN) – Christine Harrison has been visiting Le Praz De Lys-Sommand, a small ski resort in the French Alps, for the past 20 years. The view from his chalet window was always more or less the same – vast mountains, hills and chalets, all covered in frothy, thick snow.
But this year the picture is bad. The skis were put away. Most of Harrison’s fellow skiers went home.
According to Météo-France, the French National Meteorological Service, the overall average temperature in France on the last day of 2022 was 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the daily reference temperature for the period 1991-2020.
Ski resorts across the Alps, especially in the lower regions, temporarily closed their slopes as this warm weather combined with downpours washed away December snow.
Harrison and his partner from the UK were aware of the lack of snow before arriving at Le Praz De Lys. They decided to go anyway, arriving in late December mainly to check on the chalet – they had heard that the washout had caused the basement to flood.
Now, instead of spending his days on the slopes, Harrison watches the creatures buzz by on his porch. Birds, he suggests, seem equally confused by spring-like conditions.
“I don’t usually eat blue-breasted croissants in the French Alps on January 3,” says Harrison.
The photo on the left was taken by Christine Harrison at Le Praz De Lys in January 2018. Five years later, the same picture.
Laurent Reynaud, managing director of Domaines Skiables de France, the national body representing ski resorts, told CNN Travel that half of France’s 7,500 ski slopes are currently closed due to “a lack of snow and too much rain.”
High-altitude resorts, such as the big hitter Val Thorens, which is currently about 2,300 meters (7,546 feet) high, and the 3,230-meter-high Val Thorens, are still being established. In general, it is the lower altitude European ski resorts that suffer.
Jacques Murat, a 2,400-meter summit representative at France’s Ax 3 Domaines resort, told CNN that travel conditions at the resort began to decline in late December, just as it experienced one of its busiest periods – the holiday season.
Closing the slopes was a financially difficult decision, but by the end of December the team felt they had no other choice.
Some resorts are also adapting where they can, ditching ski rentals for mountain bikes and encouraging those stuck at a snowless resort to still make the most of the countryside.
Murat says this is not possible at Ax 3 Domaines.
“There’s plenty of snow for bikes, but not enough for skiing right now,” he says.
Instead, the team rests on the snow in the coming days or weeks.
Alpine meteorologist Fraser Wilkin, who runs Weather to Ski, a website that provides snow updates for skiers in the Alps, wants to stress to prospective travelers that there is still potential for skiing in Europe.
“The area that’s really, really bad is relatively small,” Wilkin told CNN Travel.
But the impact is still widespread, he adds.
Laurent Reynaud, French ski body Domaines Skiable de France
“You still can’t escape the fact that everywhere in the Alps is below normal in terms of snow depth at this stage of the season,” says Wilkin, who also runs the ski holiday company Snow-Wise.
“There needs to be a lot of snow again to avoid problems further down the line.”
Although some ski resorts use artificial snow, the fake stuff can still melt — especially if it gets closer to 59 F. It is also costly with a serious impact on the environment as it relies on large amounts of energy and water.
Summing up the situation, Reynauld says simply: “Climate change is at work.”
He says this is evident across Europe.
“We are experiencing the same situation as our neighbors Switzerland, Italy and Austria.”
A look at Europe
Local Mark Bennett took this photo on Jan. 4, 2023, in Klevenalp, central Switzerland.
Jesus Castellvi works as a ski and snowboard school manager at a resort in the Pyrenees.
Temperatures there are more summery than early January, he told CNN Travel. While there is some snow, it’s not the “best” and the impact is felt even if the resort isn’t closed and reservations are still coming in.
“We’ve had a lot of cancellations,” says Castellvi.
According to CNN affiliate BFMTV, only one in three ski resorts and only a quarter of Pyrenees ski trails were open in December due to poor snow conditions.
Across the Alps in Switzerland, British retiree Mark Bennett lives in a small village near Lucerne at the foot of the Klevenalp-Stokhutte ski area. Like Le Praz De Lys, this is a small, low-lying resort – its highest point is just over 2,000 meters.
“They closed the resort to store any snow for Christmas and New Years, but it’s all gone,” says Bennett, who has lived in the area for the past decade. “It was very sad – the usual noise and life of the festive season was not seen.”
While there have always been “strange days in strange conditions” and a couple of years with late snow, Bennett tells CNN Travel, “it was just a trickle of slightly worse conditions and less ski days.”
Another photo showing no snow in Klevenalp, Switzerland.
Castellvi tries to be optimistic in the short term — he hopes snow conditions will improve next week, when fall is forecast, and advises travelers to check exact conditions at their destinations before panicking.
But for a long time, he feels that the situation is dark.
“I wish the future looked good, but unfortunately, as an environmental activist, I’m not very optimistic about the future,” he says. “I believe what the climate change experts say. We all see the evidence.”
Weather watcher Wilkin calls the Alpine climate increasingly “unstable” and that will only continue as the climate crisis hits Europe. Right now, there’s still snow, and still a chance of snow, even a lot of it — but it seems less and less guaranteed.
“It certainly won’t be good for the future ski resort,” says Murat of Ax 3 Domaines.
“It’s still going to be skiing for a long time,” says Wilkin. “But we’re going to see more and more pressure on our resorts. And we’re going to see more people needing to go higher up, which will drive up prices.”
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