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If getting out on the slopes during the summer is low on your bucket list, it’s time to move it higher. Shrinking glaciers and early resort closures suggest that summer skiing might not be around forever.
Mölltaler Gletscher, in the Austrian Alps, recently announced that it would not reopen after ceasing operation for the winter. In the past, the resort’s glacier access allowed them to support lift-accessible skiing into the summer months. On June 7, their Instagram page stated, “Unfortunately there is no skiing this summer season! However, we hope to be able to start the next winter season as early as possible.” They didn’t provide a reason for this decision and haven’t responded yet to our request for comment.
Mölltaler Gletscher isn’t the only European resort to face summer closures. French resort Val D’Isere will not offer lift access this summer. Its summer skiing operations made use of the Pissaillas glacier, which, according to the Twitter page of Radio Val D’Isere, faced “low snowfall in winter and the very mild temperatures in May.”
The closures of Mölltaler Gletscher and Val D’Isere are part of a broader trend. European summer glacier skiing access peaked in the 1980s, with a total of 50 resorts; by 2000, this number declined to 40. Now, according to Save Our Snow, there are less than 25 European summer skiing resorts in operation.
This pattern of closures is partially due to rising global temperatures. In 2019, Swiss researchers estimated that Europe could see a 50-percent reduction in glacier volume by 2050. Their model considers varying carbon concentration levels, predicting that European glaciers will survive longer if these levels don’t dramatically increase. However, they also constructed a pessimistic version of their model; European glaciers could melt away entirely by 2100 if atmospheric carbon concentration continues to rise. Shrinking European glacier volume may force more summer ski resort closures.
You can still get summer turns in at some European resorts, though. Hintertux, Les2Alpes, and Zermatt, among others, will keep their lifts spinning this summer. Several resorts plan to stay open for the entire summer, but warm temperatures have resulted in some earlier closures. Tignes, which used to provide 365 days of skiing access yearly, plans to end its summer operations in July.
In North America, Timberline and Blackcomb’s Horstman glacier remain steadfast. While the Horstman glacier was closed throughout the pandemic, it reopened this summer—allowing the historic Momentum ski camps to once again coach excited campers. Timberline, located an hour east of Portland, Oregon, received more late-season snowfall than average this year. They intend to offer lift-accessed glacier skiing into August.
However, glaciers in North America haven’t completely avoided the impacts of a warming climate. Beartooth Basin, a summer-only resort in Cody, Wyo., recently stated that they wouldn’t be opening this year, citing a lack of snow. And while the Horstman glacier held enough snow for summer operations this season, they’ve struggled historically. In 2015, low snowfall totals forced the Whistler Blackcomb operations team to use snowmaking to keep Horstman glacier skiable.
As the impacts of climate change come to bear, resorts are scrambling to develop new methods to reduce snow loss. Snowmaking and the readjustment of resort boundaries to access higher altitudes show some promise. Skiing is a climate-contingent activity, though. Without intervention, we could lose access to one of the best parts of the sport—corn snow turns under the summer sun.