Winter is coming. And for yet another ski resort in France, that means facing up to the reality that there isn’t enough snow to carry on.
La Sambuy, a town which runs a family skiing destination near Mont Blanc in the French Alps, has decided to dismantle its ski lifts because global warming has shrunk its ski season to just a few weeks, meaning it’s no longer profitable to keep them open.
Last winter, however, there was only “four weeks of snow, and even then, not much snow,” he added. That meant “very quickly, stones and rocks appeared on the piste.”
Able to open for fewer than five weeks during January and February, Dalex said the resort was looking at an annual operating loss of roughly 500,000 euros ($530,000). Keeping the lifts going alone costs 80,000 euros per year.
La Sambuy isn’t a huge resort, with just three lifts and a handful of pistes reaching up to a top height of 1,850 meters (about 6,070 feet).
But with a range of slopes running from expert “black” to beginner “green” and relatively cheap ski passes, it was popular with families seeking more of a low-key Alps experience than offered by bigger, higher-altitude destinations.
UK snow report website On The Snow calls it “an idyllic place to visit, with exceptional panoramic views and everything you need in a friendly resort.”
This summer, as crunch time came for planning the winter season, the decision was taken by La Sambuy’s town council to close the resort which it has run since 2016. While its skiing infrastructure is due to be dismantled as soon as possible, it’s hoped the town can still pull in visitors.
Dalex said that the resort, which also markets itself as a summer hiking and outdoors destination, will instead become a place for “discovering and protecting nature, going on walks, doing sports, if possible.”
La Sambuy’s website now carries a message saying that the ski resort “closed definitively” on September 10, following the town council’s decision. “Thank you all for this last summer season 2023, and for all the wonderful years spent by your side,” it said.
Snow supply risk
La Sambuy is not the only French ski resort facing a meltdown. Last year, Saint-Firmin, another small Alpine ski destination, opted to remove its ski lift after seeing its winter season dwindle from months to weeks, a situation also blamed on climate change.
Mountain Wilderness, a French environmental group, says it has dismantled 22 ski lifts in France since 2001, and estimates that there are still 106 abandoned ski lifts across 59 sites in the country.
According to a report published in August by the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, 53% of 2,234 ski resorts surveyed in Europe are likely to experience “a very high snow supply risk” at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of global warming above pre-industrial levels, without use of artificial snow.
A report published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found a “substantial possibility” of global temperature rises crossing this 2-degree Celsius threshold by mid-century.
La Sambuy’s Dalex said that “all winter sports resorts in France are impacted by global warming,” particularly those at a medium mountain altitude between 1,000 and 1,500 meters.
Not everyone in his town is willing to give up without a fight though.
A petition was launched this year by an association called All Together For La Sambuy (Tous Ensemble Pour La Sambuy), urging to keep the resort, and others, open by adopting a new more “durable” model – chiefly, by operating the chair lift in summer to take visitors up the mountain,
The petition has acquired more than 1,900 signatures and, according to Christian Bailly, the president of the association, the group is taking legal action to reverse the town council’s decision.
He said closure is “harmful” to the local town and territory, adding that the ski resort is “a social element of our small town of 7,500 inhabitants.”
Dalex says the cause of the closure is clear. He said that “global warming is evidently underway” and happening “even faster than scientists predicted.” He said it was increasingly difficult for ski resorts to function, with many being “forced to adapt” to a new climate.