Unseasonably warm weather in Europe's Alps has left skiers and snowboarders unable to scratch their winter itch. Meanwhile, the winter tourism industry is suffering, and the Swiss ski team has left for Canada in search of whiter pastures.
The only thing winter sports enthusiasts are exercising this year is their patience. Just one week before Christmas, the usually reliable blanket of snow that buries Europe's famous Alps in December has yet to appear. Skiiers, as a result have so far had to stay home. And not just the amateurs. Balmy temperatures have forced the cancellation of World Cup ski races at some of Europe's most prized slopes, like France's Val d'Isere and Switzerland's St. Moritz.
The German ski industry, with many of its ski areas in Bavaria making due with Alpine foothills, has perhaps been hit the hardest by the lack of snow. Almost none of the southern German slopes have enough white stuff to open the lifts. Even Germany's highest peak, the Zugspitze, only has a paltry 58 centimeters (23 inches) of snow. Snow cannons had even been useless until this week -- finally temperatures in the mountains are cold enough that artificial snow won't disappear as fast as it is produced.
According to a recent European climate study, winter sports lovers are suffering from the warmest Alpine temperatures in some 1,300 years. The unseasonable temperatures have forced ski resorts to offer hiking holidays and bears to seek out new, colder hideaways for their winter hibernation.
The Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera reported over the weekend that from Piemont to Venice, "only 50 percent of the slopes are skiable." Some Italian ski slope and cable car operators have asked the government to declare a state of emergency and compensate them for their lost business. Evidently, not many ski bums were keen to trade in their snowboards for hiking boots.
Most Austrian ski slopes are closed, too. From Bad Kleinkirchheim to Ehrwald to Hochkönig, the ski lifts that carry thousands in an average December are still sitting idle. In Kühai -- "the highest wintersports area in Austria" -- only seven of the 12 lifts are operating to get skiers to a modest 30 centimeter blanket of snow. Only 12 of Schmittenhöhe's 75 kilometers of ski slopes are open to skiers, only half of Schneeloch's lifts are operating.
At least France has good news for skiers: sinking temperatures and a passing weather front look like they'll dump snow in the southern French Alps. Still, fewer than half of the slopes are open in Val d'Isere, Tignes and Espace Killy.
Switzerland is hoping recent forecasts come true and that they'll finally get some powder above the 1,000 meter mark. For some, though, it's too little too late: the Swiss ski team just moved its World Cup training to Canada.
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