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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 January 2007, 08:37 GMT
Snow finally blankets the Alps
By James Cove
BBC News, the Alps

Alpine hotel
Many hotels faced cancellations over the Christmas period

Heavy snow is now falling across the Alps giving a much needed boost to the winter tourism industry.

All the resorts are getting the benefit with snow falling down to 800 metres (2,600ft).

This Christmas was one of the worst on record with very poor snowfalls.

The economic consequences for some resorts were terrible as some people cancelled their holidays and stayed at home.

A handful of people have even called off their holidays later in the season on the strength of poor snow so far this winter.

Many resorts could not open fully, while others relied on artificial snow.

I was in the Swiss resort of Verbier and, although it was open, the slopes were very crowded as it was one of the few areas with snow.

All that has now changed.

Heavy snowfall

"We've had well over a quarter of a metre of snow in the past 24 hours and winter has now well and truly begun," Julian Griffiths, the director of the Verbier Ski School, European Snowsport told the BBC News website.

Map

"It's a shame it was not here for Christmas but thankfully it is here now."

In other parts of Switzerland up to three-quarters of a metre (2ft 5in) has fallen.

The resort of Crans Montana, which was unable to open large parts of its slopes over Christmas, has received 30cm (1ft).

Italy has also received significant snow, and Sestriere, which hosted many of the Winter Olympic events last year, has seen almost 40cm (1ft 3in) of snowfall.

"The conditions really are great; there is blue sky across much of the Alps today and the wind has also dropped," says Ali Morgan from the Ski Club of Great Britain.

Further snow is expected to fall before the weekend.

The snow however has brought its problems with power cuts and traffic disruption.

On Monday a 27-year-old man died near Gstaad in Switzerland in an avalanche.

Christmas threatened

Over the border in parts of Austria the avalanche alert is at its second highest level due to the heavy snow in the Tyrol and Vorarlberg regions.

The lack of snowfall and changing weather patterns has got some people asking if the traditional Christmas skiing holiday may eventually become a thing of the past with no snow in many resorts across the Alps.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that banks are refusing to lend money to some low resorts because of their bleak future.

An ice climber
Resorts are starting to offer other activities like ice climbing

"Twenty years ago I thought global warming would affect my grand-children's skiing, but now it is affecting me," says Peter Hardy, the co-editor of the Great Skiing and Snowboarding Guide.

"I would never book a ski holiday in a resort below 1850 metres (6,000ft) over Christmas, the snowfall is simply not reliable enough and the situation looks like getting worse."

Ski resorts diversify

Ski resorts now realise that they have to adapt to the changing weather patterns and many are now offering alternative things to do in the mountains.

The adventurous can try ice climbing or paragliding, while the less adventurous might prefer snowshoe walking, ice skating or cross-country skiing.

Health and fitness centres are also being heavily marketed.

The French resort of Tignes, one of the highest in the Alps at over 2000 metres (6,500ft) with guaranteed snow, has spent millions of euros on a new fitness centre in the heart of the resort with pools, saunas and steam rooms.

"For the first time we have seen many more people doing these other activities and having a winter sports holiday, not just a skiing holiday," says Marion Telsnig from Crystal Holidays.

In part this is due to the lack of snow, but I have done all the other winter sports this season and they are great fun, although ice climbing is not for the faint hearted.

If the current weather patterns continue then people who wish to go to ski resorts over Christmas may have to change their expectations and look for other things to do in the mountains besides skiing.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Alpine ski resorts finally under snow



SEE ALSO
OECD warns on Alpine ski future
13 Dec 06 |  Business
'Major melt' for Alpine glaciers
04 Apr 06 |  Science/Nature

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