Climate controls on snow reliability in French Alps ski resorts


P. Spandre, H. François, D. Verfaillie, M. Lafaysse, M. Déqué, N. Eckert, E. George, S. Morin
Scientific Reports, 9/1, Nature Publishing Group, UK, 2019
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-44068-8


Ski tourism is a major sector of mountain regions economy, which is under the threat of long-term climate change. Snow management, and in particular grooming and artificial snowmaking, has become a routine component of ski resort operations, holding potential for counteracting the detrimental effect of natural snow decline. However, conventional snowmaking can only operate under specific meteorological conditions. Whether snowmaking is a relevant adaptation measure under future climate change is a widely debated issue in mountainous regions, with major implications on the supply side of this tourism industry. This often lacks comprehensive scientific studies for informing public and private decisions in this sector. Here we show how climate change influences the operating conditions of one of the main ski tourism markets worldwide, the French Alps. Our study addresses snow reliability in 129 ski resorts in the French Alps in the 21st century, using a dedicated snowpack model explicitly accounting for grooming and snowmaking driven by a large ensemble of adjusted and downscaled regional climate projections, and using a geospatial model of ski resorts organization. A 45% snowmaking fractional coverage, representative of the infrastructures in the early 2020s, is projected to improve snow reliability over grooming-only snow conditions, both during the reference period 1986–2005 and below 2 °C global warming since pre-industrial. Beyond 3 °C of global warming, with 45% snowmaking coverage, snow conditions would become frequently unreliable and induce higher water requirements.