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Costs mount as ski resorts battle lack of snow

Snow is in short supply on the slopes of St Moritz Keystone

Ski resorts across Switzerland are turning to expensive artificial snow making machines as nature fails to perform.

This content was published on January 18, 2002 - 09:40

The lack of snowfall this winter means that skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports enthusiasts would have little prospect of any activity if it weren't for the machines covering the slopes every night. Some ski resorts are spending millions of francs to provide snow.

There hasn't been any decent snowfall since well before Christmas, and with the fine, sunny weather of the past two weeks much of the natural snow has disappeared. It seems only the artificial snow machines are keeping the industry from complete meltdown.

"We're lucky to have them," says Claudio Luschetta of the St Moritz tourist board, "otherwise nobody would be skiing in St Moritz or the Engadine valley."

"With the machines, we can offer up to 50 kilometres of slopes and conditions are great but still not all facilities are open."

In fact, only around half of the facilities are available but Luschetta says St Moritz can also depend on other attractions.

Alpine polo?

He estimates that up to 40 per cent of the resort's visitors aren't there to participate in winter sports at all but rather to watch special events such as the polo or horse racing on the lake.

The costs involved in artificially keeping the slopes snow-covered are huge.

The snow machines eat electricity and Luschetta estimates that the lack of snowfall will cost around SFr1.5 million over the season as a whole. It will depend of course on the weather but the industry cannot afford to suffer such costs forever.

At some point the expenses will be passed on to the consumer in higher charges for ski passes.

Scanning the skies

Crans-Montana, one of Switzerland's biggest resorts, could also do with more snow, although tourism spokesman Walter Loser says things aren't as bad as elsewhere.

"In Wengen, Adelboden and St Moritz, they have much less snow than we do."

But here too, the machines are being put into service.

Swiss resorts are not alone in their struggle for snow. "In Italy and France, conditions are not so good either," says Loser, "only in Austria, I hear things are a little better."

"Unfortunately, the snow seems to be coming later and later every year."

The problem since the New Year, according to Swiss Meteorological Office , has been a high-pressure situation resulting in great sunshine in mountain areas, but little snow.

Relief, however, may be at hand.

"I think we will see some improvement for the ski resorts," says weather forecaster, Felix Schacher, "Starting on Sunday, we will have a westerly flow and that will bring humid air from the sea, and we should see a period of snowfall in regions higher than 1,000 metres."

And if not, there's always the snow machines.

by Michael Hollingdale

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