(CNN) – Kristen 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 the chalet window has always been more or less the same—a wide expanse of mountains, hills, and chalets, all covered in thick snow and foam.
But this year the landscape is barren. The skis are put away. Many of Harrison’s would-be skateboarding buddies returned home.
In France, the average overall temperature on the last day of 2022 was 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the daily reference temperature for 1991-2020, according to Météo-France, France’s national meteorological service.
Cross-alpine ski resorts, particularly those in the lower reaches, have temporarily closed their slopes as this warm weather, accompanied by heavy rains, clears up the December snowfall.
Harrison and her partner from the UK were aware of the lack of snow at Le Praz De Lys before they arrived. They decide to go anyway, and arrive mostly in late December to check out their chalet – they’ve heard that the drift has flooded the basement.
Now, instead of spending her days on the slopes, Harrison has been watching wildlife roam around her porch. She suggests that the birds seem equally disoriented by the spring-like conditions.
“I don’t usually feed blue breast croissants on January 3rd in the French Alps,” says Harrison.
The photo on the left was taken by Christine Harrison at Le Praz De Lys in January 2018. Here’s the same photo five years later.
Laurent Reynaud, managing director of Domaines Skiables de France, the national body that represents ski resorts, tells CNN Travel that half of France’s 7,500 ski slopes are currently closed, due to “lack of snow and too much rain.”
For now, higher-altitude resorts – such as big hitter Val Thorens, at nearly 2,300 meters (7,546 feet), with an elevation gain of 3,230 meters – are still going strong. In general, European ski resorts suffer at lower altitudes.
At the French resort of Ax 3 Domaines, at 2,400 metres, actor Jaques Murat told CNN that travel conditions at the resort began to deteriorate in late December, just as it was going through one of its busiest periods — the festive holidays.
Closing the slopes was a tough decision financially, but by the end of December the team felt they had no choice.
Some resorts are also adapting where possible, swapping mountain bike rentals for skiing and encouraging those who find themselves stuck at a snowless resort to continue making the most of the backcountry.
Murat says this was not possible at Ax 3 Domaines.
“There’s too much snow for cycling, but not enough for skiing right now,” he says.
Instead, the team will rely on snow for the coming days or weeks.
Alpine meteorologist Fraser Wilkin, who runs a website called Weather to Ski that provides snow updates for alpine skiers, is keen to assure would-be travelers that there is still potential for skiing in Europe.
“The really bad area is relatively small,” Wilkin tells CNN Travel.
The effect is still widespread, he adds.
Laurent Reynaud, Domaines Skiable de France, French Ski Authority
“You still can’t escape the fact that every place in the Alps is below par in terms of snow depths at this point in the season,” says Wilkin, who also runs a ski vacation company called Snow-Wise.
“It needs significant snowfall again to avoid problems in the future.”
And while some ski resorts rely on artificial snow, the fake stuff can still melt—especially if the weather goes past 59 degrees Fahrenheit, is expensive, and has a significant environmental impact because it relies on large amounts of energy and water.
Summarizing the situation, Reynolds simply says: “Climate change is working.”
It is visible all over Europe, he says.
“We are in the same situation as our neighbours, the Swiss, the Italians and the Austrians.”
View across Europe
Citizen Mark Bennett took this photo in Klewenalp, central Switzerland, on January 4, 2023.
Isa Castellvi works as the director of a ski and snowboard school at a resort in the Pyrenees.
The temperatures there, she tells CNN Travel, are more reminiscent of spring than early January. Although there is some snow, it’s not “the best” and the resort feels the impact, even if it’s not closed and reservations are still going.
“We’ve had many cancellations,” Castelvey says.
Only one in three ski stations and a quarter of the ski slopes in the Pyrennees were open in December due to poor snow conditions, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Across the Swiss Alps, British retiree Mark Bennett lives in a small village near Lucerne, located at the bottom of the Klewenalp-Stockhutte ski area. Like Le Praz De Lys, this is a small, low-altitude resort – the highest point is just over 2000 meters.
“They closed the resort to try to keep any snow for Christmas and New Year’s, but it’s all gone,” says Bennett, who has lived in the area for the past decade. “It was very sad – the usual hype and vacation time life wasn’t seen.”
While there have always been “odd days of bad conditions” and some years where the snow was delayed, Bennett told CNN Travel that overall “it’s been a drip feed of slightly worse conditions and less ski days.”
Another image shows the lack of snow in Klewenalp, Switzerland.
Castellvi tries to be optimistic in the short term—she’s hopeful that snow conditions will improve next week, when fall is expected, and advises travelers to check the exact conditions at their destination before they panic.
But in the long run, she feels the situation is bleak.
“I hope the future looks good, but unfortunately, as an environmentalist, I’m not very conscious about the future,” she says. “I think what the climate change experts say. We all see the evidence.”
Weather tracker Wilkin sums up the climatic situation in the Alps as increasingly “fluctuating”, and this will only continue as the climate crisis hits Europe. There is still snow currently, and there is still a chance of snow, even a lot of it – but it seems less guaranteed.
“For sure, the future will not be good for the ski resort,” says Mourad, of Ax 3 Domaines.
“There will be skating for a long time after,” Wilkin says. “But we will see our resorts under increasing pressure. We will see more people needing to go up, and that will drive up prices.”
“Pop cultureaholic. Web nerd. Devoted social media practitioner. Travel fanatic. Creator. Food guru.”