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Christine Harrison has been visiting Le Praz De Lys-Sommand, a small ski resort in the French Alps, for the past 20 years. The view out of her chalet window has always been more or less the same – wide expanse of mountains, hills and chalets, all capped in frothy, thick snow.
But this year, the landscape is barren. The skis have been put away. Many of Harrison’s fellow would-be skiers have gone home.
“There literally is no snow this year,” she tells CNN Travel.
Much of Europe is currently experiencing unseasonably warm weather conditions, with several countries in the continent recording their warmest January day ever on New Year’s Day.
In France, the aggregated average temperature on the last day of 2022 was over 8 degrees Celsius (14.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the daily reference temperature for 1991-2020, according to Météo-France, the French national meteorological service
Ski resorts across the Alps, particularly those in the lower regions, have temporarily shuttered their slopes as this warm weather, teamed with torrential rain, washes away December’s snowfall.
Harrison and her partner, who are from the UK, were aware of the lack of snow at Le Praz De Lys before they arrived. They decided to go anyway, arriving in late December mostly to check up on their chalet – they’d heard the washout had led to flooding in the basement.
Now, instead of spending her days on the slopes, Harrison’s been watching the wildlife buzzing about her balcony. The birds, she suggests, seem equally confused by the spring-like conditions.
“I’m not normally feeding blue tits croissants on the 3rd of January in the French Alps,” says Harrison.
Laurent Reynaud, managing director at Domaines Skiables de France, the national body representing ski resorts, tells CNN Travel that half of the 7,500 ski slopes in France are currently closed, due to “a lack of snow and a lot of rain.”
At present higher altitude resorts – like big hitter Val Thorens, which is some 2,300 meters (7,546 feet) high, with a top altitude of 3,230 meters – are still going strong. It’s generally the European ski resorts at lower altitude that are suffering.
At French resort Ax 3 Domaines, which tops out at 2,400 meters, representative Jaques Murat tells CNN Travel conditions at the resort started to go downhill in late December, just as it was experiencing one of its busiest periods – the festive holidays.
Closing the slopes was a difficult decision financially, but by the end of December the team felt they had no choice.
Some resorts are also adapting where they can, switching out ski hiring for mountain bikes and encouraging those who find themselves stuck in a snowless resort to still make the most of the countryside.
Murat says this wasn’t possible at Ax 3 Domaines.
“There’s too much snow for bikes, but not enough for skiing right now,” he says.
Instead, the team are banking on snow in the coming days or weeks.
Alpine meteorology expert Fraser Wilkin, who runs a website called Weather to Ski, providing snow updates for Alpine skiers, is keen to stress to prospective travelers that there’s still skiing potential in Europe.
“The area that’s really, really bad is relatively small,” Wilkin tells CNN Travel.
But the impact remains widespread, he adds.
“You still can’t escape the fact that everywhere in the Alps is below par in terms of snow depths at this stage of the season,” says Wilkin, who also runs a ski vacation company called Snow-Wise.
“It does need to snow considerably again to avoid problems further down the line.”
And while some ski resorts are relying on artificial snow, the fake stuff can still melt – especially if the weather is bridging 59 F. It’s also costly, with a significant environmental impact as it relies on large amounts of energy and water.
Summing up the situation, Reynauld simply says: “Climate change is at work.”
It’s evident across Europe, he says.
“We experience the same situation as our Swiss, Italian and Austrian neighbors.”
View across Europe
Isa Castellvi works as a ski and snowboard school manager at a resort in the Pyrenees.
The temperatures there, she tells CNN Travel, are more reminiscent of spring than early January. While there’s some snow, it’s not “the best” and the resort is feeling the impact, even if it’s not closed and bookings are still coming in.
“We have had many cancellations,” Castellvi says.
Only one in three ski stations and just a quarter of Pyrennees ski runs were open in December due to poor snow conditions, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Across the Alps in Switzerland, British retiree Mark Bennett lives in a small village near Lucerne, situated at the bottom of the Klewenalp-Stockhutte ski area. Like Le Praz De Lys, this a small, low-altitude resort – the highest point is just over 2,000 meters.
“They closed the resort to try and keep any snow for Christmas and New Year but it all disappeared,” says Bennett, who’s lived in the area for the past decade. “It’s been very sad – the usual buzz and life of holiday time has not been seen.”
While there have always been “odd days of poor conditions” and some years when the snow has come late, Bennett tells CNN Travel that overall “it has been a drip drip feed of slightly worse conditions and less ski days.”
Castellvi is trying to be optimistic in the short term – she hopes snow conditions will improve next week, when a fall is forecast, and advises travelers to check exact conditions at their destination before they panic.
But long term she feels the situation is bleak.
“I wish the future looked good but unfortunately, as an environmental activist, I am not very positive about the future,” she says. “I believe what climate change experts are saying. We are all seeing the evidence.”
Weather tracker Wilkin sums up the Alpine climate situation as increasingly “volatile,” and this will only continue as the climate crisis hits Europe. There’s currently still snow, and still the chance of snow, even a lot of it – but it’s seemingly less and less guaranteed.
With some resorts already permanently retiring, for many others the seasons are shrinking and prospects are uncertain.
“For sure, the future is not going to be good for the ski resort,” says Murat, from Ax 3 Domaines.
“There’ll be skiing for a long time yet,” says Wilkin. “But we will see our resorts under more and more pressure. And we will see more people need to go higher, and that will drive up prices.”
Top photo taken on December 30, 2022 of a ski slope in Riezlern, Austria. Photo by JFK/EXPA/AFP via Getty Images
CNN’s Joseph Ataman and Marguerite Lacroix contributed to this story.