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Saturday, 29 December, 2001, 06:42 GMT
Scant Christmas cheer for Alpine resorts
Tignes ski resort in France
Tignes has snow, but overcrowding can be a problem
By the BBC's James Cove in the Alps

Some of the major ski centres in France and Switzerland finally had a happy Christmas after snowfalls this week, but it was still not enough for resorts to open up all their ski areas.

A severe shortage of snow in the run-up to the holiday period had led to predictions of economic problems for many resorts.

Some had feared they would have to remain closed at what should be one of the busiest times of the year.

Couple downhill skiing
Britons may think again about Christmas skiing
The snow this week has helped them out but they still face problems over the coming weeks.

"It has been a dreadful start to the skiing season for the main resorts in France with some of the worst snow conditions seen at this time of year for a long while," says Peter Hardy, the co-editor of the Good Skiing and Snowboarding Guide.

Christmas concerns

Val d'Isere in France had only a tiny proportion of its huge area open just a few days before the holiday break and was relying on snow canons to keep runs open.

Elizabeth Vizard, who was there with her family, told BBC News Online that conditions were pretty grim.

"The run-up to Christmas was dreadful with very little snow and the large crowds arriving made a bad situation even worse. We may well think again about skiing in December," she said.

Fears about global warming and a recent run of bad snow in December are causing many others to consider whether to carry on skiing at Christmas as a feeling grows that snow cover is becoming unreliable.

"The British have traditionally gone skiing at Christmas come what may", says Arnie Wilson, the skiing correspondent of the Financial Times, "but they may think again next year.

"If this feeling turns into a trend then many resorts could face a significant financial problem."

High Resorts

The future of the high-level resorts is, however, becoming brighter as they are more likely to have good snow cover.

Austrian ski resort
Austrian ski resorts have fared better
The French resort of Tignes has a glacier and so is able to offer skiing even if all the other resorts in the area are closed.

However this, too, creates a problem, as the slopes can become very crowded.

Just before Christmas the resort was considering whether to limit the number of skiers and boarders it allowed up the lifts.

On one day earlier this month, 29 people were injured, partly because the slopes were overcrowded.

However it is not all bad news for the Alpine ski resorts, as Austria has been enjoying some of the best snow conditions it has ever had over the Christmas period.

"Austria is definitely the place to head for", says Liz Russell from The Ski Club of Great Britain, "but the new snow in the French Alps has freshened up the runs that are open and has at least made everything look very pretty for Christmas."

See also:

27 Oct 01 | Business
Skiers buck declining travel trends
17 Nov 01 | Europe
Global warming may hit skiing
30 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Tourists' heavy Alpine toll
26 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Warm-up in the Alps
04 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Trailing English eccentrics in Switzerland
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