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Hopes of a snowy winter ski season melt away

A chair lift stands still in Adelboden - warm temperatures make it difficult to add artificial snow to the slopes

(Keystone)

The winter season got off to a mild start in Switzerland with reports of many ski slopes remaining closed due to lack of snow.

This follows what Swiss weather experts have called the warmest autumn ever in the country - but they have cautioned against blaming the climate changes solely on global warming.

The first weekend in December brought warm temperatures to Swiss cities. In Basel the thermometer recorded 16 degrees Celsius and in Geneva it was 14 degrees.

According to the Swiss national weather service MeteoSwiss, the average for the beginning of December is normally three to four degrees.

Mountain temperatures were also mild, with reports of only a small amount of snow above 1,800 metres.

High-altitude ski resorts such as Zermatt, Engelberg-Titlis or Andermatt were open for business, but the slopes were mostly covered with a narrow strip of artificial snow, according to the media. Some resorts, including several in central Switzerland, remained closed.

But it is not only tourism that is suffering. Several ski World Cup races have been cancelled in the Alps due to lack of snow, including the women's events set for St Moritz on December 9-10. However, meteorologists have predicted some snowfall for next weekend.

"The start to the skiing season was certainly not a success," said Daniela Bär, spokeswoman for Switzerland Tourism.

"But on the other hand we had an extremely strong September and October. The summer season was just extended."

Tourism directors have reported higher numbers of walkers and day-trippers taking advantage of the high autumnal temperatures.

Mild autumn

This year's autumn was the mildest on record, say experts, with temperatures up to four degrees higher than in previous years and a degree higher than the earlier record in 1987.

Fosco Spinedi from MeteoSwiss says that this weather was due to a constant influx of high pressure linked to subtropical conditions.

"It's not an extraordinary event in itself... its particularity comes from the frequency and the duration of this event, which is not just exceptional for the south but also for the north of the Alps," he said.

The mild temperatures have led to flowers blooming on the slopes and trees shedding their leaves later than normal.

MeteoSwiss has recorded a general rise in temperature since the 1980s.

"The phenomenon of climate warming is especially affecting the in-between seasons, autumn and spring," said Spinedi.

"Nevertheless, based on our data, winter also seems destined to be warmer and the upcoming one should basically be mild."

This year's very warm autumn should remain exceptional, despite global warming, says MeteoSwiss. Statistically such autumns should occur every 50-100 years.

But the organisation is expecting the trend towards a milder autumnal season to continue as well as more extreme seasonal temperatures.

"We'll have to learn to live with this phenomenon," explained Spinedi. "It's true that a single event cannot be linked directly to climate change, but probably it's part of the signs that indicate atmospheric warming."

swissinfo

Key facts

September and October were the warmest since weather records began in Switzerland in 1864.
The previous record was recorded in 1987.
In 2006, temperatures south of the Alps were on average 2.5 degrees Celsius higher than normal and in some areas of the north Alps it rose to up to four degrees.

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Ski season woes

Three World Cup skiing events have been cancelled in Europe so far due to the warm weather.

This includes the women's events set for St Moritz in the eastern canton of Graubünden (December 9-10).

Also scrapped are the men's downhill and super-combi races in Val d'Isère, France (December 9-10).

The season-opening races on the glacier in Sölden, Austria, were also wiped out due to heavy rain.

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