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Lack Of Snow In French Alps Is Affecting Lower Altitude Ski Resorts


It's been warmer than normal in the Alps. There's less snowfall, even some rain. And all of that is making skiing at lower-altitude resorts difficult. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report from this French ski town of Morzine.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: There's powder and good skiing at Morzine's higher altitudes above 4,500 feet, but the resort's lower slopes can be slushier. Sitting on the terrace of a high-altitude restaurant on the slopes, David Beale from Wales says it was even raining down in the valley.

DAVID BEALE: Yeah, the snow has definitely changed this year. I'm not saying it's climate change, but who knows? It's the first time that we ever been skiing at Morzine when it's been so green.

BEARDSLEY: Sonja Snyders from the Netherlands has been skiing in the Alps for 40 years. She says so many tourists now come to ski, and it's clearly not sustainable.

SONJA SNYDERS: We are also cause of this because all the people travel here by plane, by car.

BEARDSLEY: Chairlift operator Vincent Filoche makes sure skiers ease out safely onto the slopes. The 33-year-old was born and grew up in the region. He says it's not just the winters that are changing.

VINCENT FILOCHE: (Through interpreter) In the summers, the Alpine lakes are low. There are hard rains in the fall and gentle winters, huge variations and extremes from year to year. Last year, there was so much snow here, people skied until May.


BEARDSLEY: But this year, a couple of ski resorts actually resorted to bringing snow from higher elevations by helicopter to carpet their lower slopes. The spectacle outraged environmentalist and European Parliament member Yannick Jadot.

YANNICK JADOT: (Through interpreter) We have to ban such insane measures. Already, there are water shortages in the Alps, and the artificial snow cannons are not helping that. We have got to learn to alleviate climate change and adapt to it.

BEARDSLEY: In recent years, a number of French ski resorts at lower altitudes have had to close because of a lack of snow and skiers.

BARBARA WULSER: It's not about the future. It's about now because the problem is already visible.

BEARDSLEY: That's Barbara Wulser of the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps. She says temperatures in the Alps have been rising much faster than the global average because of the region's topography. She says it's time to develop a tourism that respects the limits of available resources.

WULSER: Many ski areas are already confronted with snowless winters. And with artificial snow, we create more problems than - instead of solving the problem, and we destroy why people are coming to the Alps. And this is the landscape, the nature and the recreation possibilities.

BEARDSLEY: This week, the ecology minister is gathering the heads of France's major ski resorts for a meeting in Paris to discuss how they can adapt to a future with less snow and less skiing.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Morzine, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.