Patrick Thorne

11 Feb 24

Don’t Panic

Patrick Thorne

11 Feb 24

Mainstream media, including some British newspapers have been doing their annual thing of producing highly misleading stories that give the impression that there’s no snow on Europe’s ski slopes.

It’s not true for almost all the ski areas holiday companies will take you to.  Conditions above 1,800m are good on the groomed slopes and even most lower slopes are being maintained. So Verbier, for example, has 390 of its 410km of slopes open, Laax has snow lying almost 4 metres deep. It’s the same in more or less every other major destination ski resort.

But that didn’t stop the Daily Express running a story headed: “Europe’s ski slopes appear desert-like as balmy winter weather melts all the snow.”

It’s the usual thing they do each autumn/winter now of finding a small, low-lying ski area, one of thousands across Europe that no one except those living in the local village where they’re located has ever heard of. Shockingly, they find, this place has no snow and rather than explain the difference between this tiny, low ski area and the bigger, high resorts we all ski in, newspapers skip over the detail and just make it appear that this is the universal picture.

Don’t Panic

(Pictured above – ONE OF THE SHOCKING PICTURES THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE! – a normal ski holiday at Risoul in France on Friday) 

This year there are two of these small areas – one low and Swiss, the other higher but in the far south of Europe.

The latter, used in the Express story, is Italy’s Mt Terminillo, a small area with 12km close to Rome in southern Italy. The other is Dent-de-Vaulion in the Swiss Jura region, where there are 10km of runs served by two drag lifts between 1,150 and 1,482 m altitude – in other words a top lift lower than the bottom of lift of most major ski areas.

Both stories miss the crucial context explaining these are not major, typical resorts. They both appear to originate with news agency Reuters. This is the original Jura one, this the Roman one.

The Gulf Times were among dozens of papers around the world covering the Jura story which  fails to point out this was not a major or even mid-sized  Swiss destination ski resort to those not familiar with ski holiday destinations.

“Recent reports in UK newspapers, describing Europe’s ski slopes as ‘desert-like’, with photos showing green patches and melting snow, are nothing short of misleading, and simply wrong, said Laura Hazell of UK ski chalet specialist, Ski Beat, adding, “In the run-up to the busiest week of the season, February half term, all this will do is cause upset and panic for families who are looking forward to their ski holiday. And there is no need, there is absolutely no cause for concern. 90% of modern ski resorts are above 1800m, that is where the snow is, and that is where British skiers will be.”

Unfortunately, these days there are not enough journalists left to check stories and publishers just copy each other’s reports without really knowing what they’re publishing. In fact, we’re noticing at InTheSnow that really ridiculous press releases we receive are increasingly appearing unchecked or questioned across mainstream media in the UK and around the world. These unchecked stories, already the norm on social media, are designed to grab attention regardless of facts and are now repeated in once fairly responsible publications …and unfortunately it’s not just skiing.

Don’t Panic

(You probably won’t see a pink elephant on the slopes, unless you’re in La Rosière in France, where the snow is currently lying more than 10 feet/3 metres deep up top, but you should see plenty of snow)

On the no snow stories, key facts to be aware of:

* There were about 7,000 ski areas worldwide in 1980s, most of these were small for local towns and villages near them with just one or two drag lifts each. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have closed altogether since then, partly due to unreliable snow due to climate change, partly because of changing tastes meaning it doesn’t make sense to invest in upgrading the lifts and associated costs as the old lifts age. The numbers of this type of centre closing for good grows every year and those becoming ‘marginal’ for skiing, like those at the root of the two Reuters  stories this winter, also grow in number. In fact reuters could write several hundred near identical stories every winter. Thanks to climate change, sadly, the writing is on the wall for hundreds, eventually thousands of small, low centres that have survived this far. It’s bad news for skiers and local businesses in these areas.

Don’t Panic

* Climate change is definitely impacting ski areas and snow cover. This winter has been one of the worst on record for high temperatures across the northern hemisphere and temperatures were far too high for far too long in January and February. But this doesn’t mean there’s no snow. Weather changes by the minute and there were also big snowfalls and cold weather for snowmaking in the Alps in November and December, leaving the snow metres deep above 1800m at most of the big destination resorts, which are getting ever more experienced in maintaining what snow they have and preparing for the warm spells. Temperatures above 1800m haven’t been as warm art the low valleys where the unsustainable, unknown ski areas are either. So it’s not true to say or imply that they don’t have snow.

 “Photographs in newspapers showing grass in place of snow, were taken in a tiny ski area known as `Rome’s Mountain’ (Mt. Terminillo, Italy). The name says it all. It is a small place, 62km from Rome, frequented by weekend visitors from Italy’s capital, with only 9.4kms of pistes, four lifts and an annual snowfall of 14cm.  It is simply not a go-to destination for skiers,” adds Laura Hazell, continuing, “To compare this with an area such as Paradiski in the French Alps, a perennial favourite for British skiers makes no sense. Paradiski is 1,000 kms further north, it has 426kms of groomed pistes, 160 lifts, and more snow falls in an average week than in a whole year on Mt. Terminillo. Quite simply, the snow conditions north of Rome have absolutely no bearing on snow conditions in the Alps.”

In better news, a few days after all these reports have appeared, it is now cooler and snowing in the Alps, and snow is forecast this weekend on Dent-de-Vaulion in the Jura and event Mt Terminillo has had some snowfall – though sadly perhaps too little too late for this season down there.

Along with lots of press releases from businesses like travel insurers saying what a tragedy is that people are having their ski holidays ruined by lack of snow (but unable to identify one person who actually had had their ski holiday ruined by lack of snow when asked) and what their rights might be (not many apparently), another press release came in on Friday saying ski holiday enquiries were up 346% in the last week. The release lacked any context, such as 346% up from what or any reason why.

Of course, it could just be as it’s a busy time but perhaps putting ski holidays in many publications that usually ignore them and saying the snow is gone, has actually driven more people to find out that actually, it hasn’t, and to book while they think they still can? Perhaps there’s no such thing as bad publicity? Or maybe enquiries would have been up 700% without them. We’ll never know.

Pic top credit: SHVETS Productions


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