MRD Journal: Winter Tourism and Climate Change in the Alps: An Assessment of Resource Consumption, Snow Reliability, and Future Snow making Potential
The winter tourism industry is facing considerable challenges with climate change; it is increasingly responding with investments in snow making facilities. We present a study on 3 tourism destinations in the Swiss Alps that addressed resource consumption of snow making, snow reliability, and future snow making potential in a warmer climate.
The energy consumption of snow making in the ski resorts was in the lower range of what could be expected from literature values. It comprised 0.5% of the respective municipality’s energy consumption and was moderate compared with other tourism-related activities.
Water consumption, however, was in the higher range with regard to what was expected from literature values and was also high compared with other water uses (eg 36% compared with drinking water consumption in one community). Natural snow cover was partly critical for winter sports at low elevations at 1200 masl, but uncritical at higher elevations above 2000 masl.
Snow cover will become even more critical in a warmer climate but will probably still be sufficient above 2000 masl until 2050. Snow making may become critical at lower elevations in the early months of the season (November and December) due to warmer temperatures that can be expected in the coming decades. But, at higher elevations, the potential for snow making will probably remain sufficient. Our study provides straightforward and feasible approaches to assess resource consumption and snow cover.
Careful consideration of resource consumption and snow cover can foster technical and economical advances as well as more sustainable development in mountains regions. Snow production can represent a valuable adaptation strategy at high-altitude destinations. However, given the increasing economic competition and the changing climate, it will be crucial to use specific regional strengths to provide high-quality winter and summer tourism activities.
Reliable snow conditions represent a crucial economic prerequisite for the skiing industry (Elsasser and Messerli 2001; Scott et al 2003; Pröbstl 2006; Steiger and Mayer 2008). The lack of snow due to low precipitation or high temperatures is an immense challenge for winter sport destinations and especially mountain railway companies. Artificial snow production is the key adaptation strategy to rising temperatures, enhanced economic competition, and increasing requirements of winter tourists.
The increase in snowmaking facilities in the Alps has been dramatic in recent years. In Switzerland, artificial snow production increased in cover from <10% of the total ski piste area in 2000 to 36% in 2010 (Seilbahnen Schweiz 2010).
Austria has already reached 62%, whereas, in some areas in the Italian Alps, artificial snow can now be produced on 100% of the ski runs (Hahn 2004). The winter of 2010–2011 had below-average snow cover in most parts of the Swiss Alps, however, the mountain railway companies look back on an economically successful season, possibly in part due to improvements in snowmaking technology (Seilbahnen Schweiz 2011).
Given the expected change in climate, the trend toward extensive snow production will continue and increase. Regional climate scenarios for Switzerland predict a rise in winter temperatures by +1°C until 2030 and +1.8°C until 2050 (OcCC-Consortium 2007). The snow cover at elevations below 1300 masl has already significantly decreased since 1980 (Laternser and Schneebeli 2003). In higher regions, a decrease in average snow depth was observed in early winter (November, December), which is a crucial period for winter sport.
The tourism industry is faced with numerous concerns given the future challenges of climate change. Therefore, it needs to estimate potential negative effects of a reduced natural snow cover and potential positive mitigating effects of snow production (Hoffmann et al 2009).
Frequently discussed ecological concerns are the consumption of water and energy for snow production (Hahn 2004) and the impacts of snowmaking on vegetation and soil (Rixen et al 2003; Rixen et al 2008; Roux-Fouillet et al 2011). Although several studies have addressed ecological aspects (for an overview see Pröbstl 2006), published results of energy and water issues are rare. Furthermore, technical concerns arise about the snowmaking potential in a warmer climate because higher temperatures will not only reduce the natural snow cover but also the ability to produce snow technically (Steiger and Mayer 2008; Steiger 2010).
Our study aimed at analyzing the following aspects of winter climate change and snowmaking: resource consumption (water, energy) and snow reliability linked to the ability of snowmaking in a future climate (see details in Teich et al 2007).
We addressed the following research questions: (1) how much energy and water is required for the production of snow, and how does it relate to the regional and the resource consumption of other activities in tourism, and (2) how may snow reliability change, and will snowmaking be possible under the predicted temperature increase? The results of this study contribute to the discussion of pros and cons of artificial snow and its different impacts. The findings improve the knowledge base for decision-making in planning and implementing snowing facilities worldwide.
Our investigations were carried out in the 3 Swiss tourism destinations of Davos (9°50′E, 46°48′N; Figure 1), Scuol (10°18′E, 46°48′N), and Braunwald (8°59′E, 46°56′N). These regions represent different types of destinations and different climates in the Alps, and, therefore, may be representative for other tourist destinations. Davos is one of the largest communities of Switzerland (284 km2, 12,500 inhabitants) and the highest town of Europe.
The mean annual temperature is 2.8°C, and the mean annual precipitation is 1175 mm. Five ski resorts range between 1560 and 2844 masl, the largest being Parsenn-Gotschna and Jakobshorn. Davos also is renowned for its congress infrastructure. The municipality of Scuol covers 144 km2 (2400 inhabitants), and its ski resort Motta Naluns ranges from 1250 to 2785 masl. Scuol is popular among tourists because of its relatively dry climate (750 mm annual precipitation, 6°C mean annual temperature) and a spa. Braunwald is a small municipality of 10 km2 (350 inhabitants). Its ski resort ranges from 1250 to 1904 masl, and the precipitation amounts to 2000 mm (mean annual temperature 5°C). The destination is popular among tourists because of its vicinity to the town of Zurich and because it is car-free and family friendly.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>