In a controversial effort to protect 50 to 80 jobs, a ski resort in France has made the bold move to shift 50 tons of snow from higher in the mountains to restore depleted slopes that have suffered from warm winter weather. The move, which angered French ecologists, is expected to recoup its financial losses several times over by preventing closure, but Hervé Pounau, the director of the local department council who headed up the project, admits it was not “very ecological”.
For six weeks spanning from February to March, mountainous regions across France experience a boom in tourism during what’s known as the “winter sport holidays”. Aspiring skiers from across the globe flood the slopes, providing work for lift operators, ski school teachers, childminders, ski equipment rental shop staff, and restaurant owners, and the Luchon-Superbagnères resort relies on this period for 60 percent of its income.
In recent years, the ski industry has experienced increasing struggles in the face of climate change, with many resorts this year finding themselves stranded for lack of snow. Temperatures in Luchon-Superbagnères in the Pyrenees have been unseasonably high in previous weeks, commonly spiking above 10°C (50°F) in a trend being seen across France, which has been linked to climate change. The impact this has had on the resort has meant that only six of its 28 slopes have been accessible, and with the high season for winter sports on the horizon, local authorities decided to take drastic action.
The 50 tons have been transported via helicopter to the lower slopes used by beginner schools so that the resort can still provide runs for a range of capabilities, as more advanced skiers can head higher up the mountain where the snowfall is still good.
According to The Guardian, Hervé Pounau said: “It will cost us between €5,000 and €6,000, in the knowledge that over the long term we will get at least 10 times’ return on that investment… It’s really exceptional and we won’t be doing it again. This time we didn’t have a choice.”
But French Ecologists have been quick to condemn the drastic actions of the resort, with Bastien Ho, secretary for the Europe Écologie Les Verts party, telling a French TV network: “Instead of adapting to global warming we’re going to end up with a double problem: something that costs a lot of energy, that contributes heavily to global warming and that in addition is only for an elite group of people who can afford it. It is the world upside down.”
Ministers in Paris have further criticized the decision stating that such measures will only make climate change worse, further contributing to the plight of small resorts such as Luchon-Superbagnères. Élisabeth Borne, the environment minister for France, has called for a meeting in Paris to halt any further use of helicopters to replenish slopes, and discuss plans to support resorts whose businesses are affected by climate change. Last month was the warmest January since the US federal government started tracking monthly temperatures 144 years ago, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.