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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 00:53 GMT
Ski resorts depressed by snowfall
By James Cove
BBC News, The French Alps

Snow cover in many of the ski resorts across The Alps is going from bad to worse, with rain at the low level resorts washing away what little snow there is.

Skier in Switzerland (Image: James Cove)
It has been one of the worst winters on record in terms of snowfall

It has been one of the worst winters on record so far with high temperatures and a lack of snow.

However for a few high resorts the picture is different with up to half a metre of snow falling at altitudes of over 2,000m in the last few days.

In the Swiss resort of Zermatt people are walking round with umbrellas in the village, but at the top of the mountain conditions are good.

Bleak picture

Across The Alps this winter people have cancelled holidays, ski races have been halted and resorts are reporting depressing figures. In France some hotels are half empty.

Spring flowers have even started appearing on the lower slopes due to the high temperatures.

Bare ski slopes (Image: James Cove)
Ski races have been halted and resorts are reporting poor figures
I was in the Swiss resort of Wengen last weekend which had some of the worst conditions ever seen in January.

In the Austrian resort of Kitzbuehel, which is hosting the Hahnenkamm World Cup ski race next weekend, helicopters are being used to fly in over 4,500 cubic metres of snow to cover the race course at a cost of more than 300,000 euros (197,000).

Almost 100,000 people are expected to attend and the race weekend brings in 30m euros (19.7m).

"The race is the most important weekend for the resort," Barbara Therl, the race co-ordinator, told the BBC News website.

"We will do everything possible to make sure it happens and if using helicopters to bring in snow is necessary then that is what we will do," she said.

Tourism worries

Up to 80 million tourists come to The Alps each winter and for many it is a depressing situation.

I don't need deep powder snow everywhere but I do want to board on snow rather than rocks and mud - it's very depressing
British snowboarder Bob Walker

British snowboarder Bob Walker is heading out to the French resort of Morzine this weekend. Most of the runs in Morzine are currently closed.

"I was prepared for a lack of snow but there is very little open and people are being bussed round to the neighbouring resort of Avoriaz where the slopes will be really crowded.

"I don't need deep powder snow everywhere but I do want to board on snow rather than rocks and mud. It's very depressing."

Betony Garner, from The Ski Club of Great Britain, is in Avoriaz attending an environmental conference, looking at the possible affect of global warming and the long-term sustainability of ski resorts.

"The season has not been great so far and more people are booking their holidays at the last minute to see where the snow is falling."

It will certainly have an effect next winter with people worried about booking skiing holidays in December and January.

Not all bad

However, not all are depressed. British skier Sarah Parrish is heading off to the French resort of La Tania later this month and advises people to remain optimistic and think of other things to do in the mountains.

Felix Tanguay, the director of the off-piste ski school Powder Extreme (Image: James Cove)
In Verbier, Switzerland, conditions higher up the slopes are good
"I'm getting used to the idea of little snow and we intend to go for mountain walks, have lunch in some good mountain restaurants and generally relax.

"Whatever happens it's better than being in the office," she said.

In the Swiss resort of Verbier, although it has been raining in town, conditions higher up the slopes are good.

"I've had people cancelling their trips but there really is no need as the snow here is good," says Felix Tanguay, the director of the off-piste ski school, Powder Extreme.

"We've had half a metre of fresh snow and the conditions are great but people are being put off by the generalisations in the press. Many resorts are bad but a few, like Verbier, are good," Mr Tanguay said.

The forecast is now looking better with a cold snap predicted across The Alps and more snow set to fall next week.

However, in The Alps the start of winter in 2006/07 will be remembered by many as one of the worst on record.


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