Global warming hits “catastrophic” ski season

By Steven Downes
Gianfranco Kasper, president of FIS, the international ski federation, has blamed climate change for what he called a “catastrophic” season for winter sports.

FIS is the governing body for all aspects of ski sports, from Alpine and Nordic races, through ski jumping to snow boarding. At least 10 of its World Cup ski races and Nordic events in Europe were cancelled or disrupted this season because of warmer temperatures and lack of snow.

And Kasper’s Doomsday outlook says that the sport could not survive another snow-less winter like that of 2007.

“We can probably survive one season with such a lack of snow and warm temperatures, but will need a few good seasons coming up,” he said. “There have been bad snow years in the past and just a year ago, we had an excellent season in all aspects. Rather than blowing up the issue, we will have to wait and see how the situation develops.

“For our sports, however, we need snow out there on the pistes. As an international sports federation we are too small an actor to reverse any climatic changes but we, too, are evaluating the climatic requirements for our sport and what could be done.”

Although FIS was able to stage a great majority of its competitions, Kasper said that “at the lower levels, such as the FIS Continental Cups, FIS-races and especially competitions for the juniors and children, our activities were seriously impacted by the continuously warm weather and dramatic lack of snow”.

Kasper said: “Assessing the situation at the World Cup and World Championship-level only would be misleading; we need to consider the entire spectrum of the more than 4,500 FIS-controlled events annually.”

He is particularly concerned that the sport may have lost many youngsters to other sports because of the weather.

“The youth want to practice sport, compete and have fun which is something they could not do through skiing this year. This, I am afraid, will have an impact on our future.”

Kasper also looked at industry indicators of the problems of a lack of snow during the European ski season. “I am also concerned about the losses that the ski industry has racked up this season, up to 30-40 per cent for certain brands.

“This will surely affect us in the medium-term as the businesses will first try to sell their old stock before ordering new equipment or dump this season’s models at very low prices. Similarly, financial losses at the smaller ski resorts in particular and the associated hotel and restaurant business are significant. This applies to most of Europe as only regions such as the Black Sea, parts of Turkey and western North America had good snow this year.”

Ski sport veterans have disputed whether the unseasonably warm weather in Europe of the past few months has been exceptional or due to global warming, pointing to similarly snow-less winters in the 1960s.

But winter sports are increasingly subject to tight environmental demands: the 2010 Winter Olympics, in Vancouver, is under constant scrutiny from Canadian Green groups over building plans for roads and other developments at the Games’ principle Alpine venue at Whistler.