As the staggered end to the European ski season begins to unwind, the data from a winter that has broadly been described as mediocre can only be accurately assessed once the spike in Easter snow-sports uptake predominately at higher-level resorts has been factored into the equation and, to some degree, viewed in isolation against the previous three and a half months.
With the ‘winter openings’ in resorts like Ischgl and St.Anton seemingly getting earlier each year, one always wondered if there would eventually be a price to pay for unrealistically scheduling many months in advance a ski season never more so vulnerable than now to the capricious whims of alpine weather. There is though no doubt that the climate is getting more volatile, with settled periods of ‘bluebird’ days in the alps becoming fewer and further between, increasingly being punctuated by a damagingly mild Foehn wind and an equally destructive oscillation between mild and cold days, at times almost alternating daily between the two. Such temperamental climatic variables makes forward planning almost impossible for skiers and resorts alike, as well as heightening the risk of avalanches, increasingly prevalent this season.
There are always regional variations between resorts of similar altitude and areas, many, despite their relatively modest elevations continually punch above their height. Even with the Hahnenkamm’s fearsome reputation its situation a little over 5,600 feet above sea level offers very reliable skiing; on the other hand the likes of Kranjska Gora have already closed for the season, crucially missing out on Easter holiday trade. Slovenia is positively termed by its tourist association as occupying the sunny side of the alps but for the winter-sports fraternity, this representation is often viewed pejoratively.
As melting snow makes way for the first green shoots of spring the volatility of the winter season shows no sign of abating although. there is nevertheless plenty of skiing still to be had in Austria. Whilst only a week of the season theoretically remains in many resorts, expect pistes to be groomed in the likes of Hochgurgl and the Silvretta region for at least three more weeks yet. Non-glacial resorts at this point can only offer vague pledges as to how long the season can be stretched but inevitably those resorts serviced by permanent snowfields can propound assurances with more certainty, the Hintertux being one area open all year round. Those heading for higher climes can often though be stymied by poor visibility closing many lifts and runs. The vicissitudinal nature of the alps has though forever been thus and forms just part of its appeal. Four seasons in one day is something regular visitors will be more than familiar with and whilst climate change is very real and happening, the temptation to attribute the volatility of all the alps’ meteorological mores to it should be resisted; after all, there will always be winter-seasons that disappoint and those that exceed expectations. It is though nevertheless important for those planning expensive and potentially financially crippling winter-sports infrastructure projects to view the future with more pragmatism than hubris. It is all well and good relying on artificial snow-making to pick up the slack but if the temperatures are not sufficiently low for synthesised snow to be produced, resorts at lower-altitudes will increasingly struggle. With the likes of Obergurgl and St. Anton not though immune to resorting to synthetic top ups of their pistes, life in the alps is rarely straightforward. For so many areas to remain viable for years to come, business-plans need to be diverse, insulating resorts from the danger of putting all their eggs in one basket. Today’s preference though for short-termism and ephemera would suggest such an approach is, for the time being at least, very much the exception rather than the rule.
Further reading on this subject can be viewed at: Tiroler Tageszeitung: ski season very much a mixed bag