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What can I do if I've booked a French skiing holiday and there's no snow?

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 7 Jan, 2023 Updated Sat 7 Jan 2023 09:03 CEST
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A stopped chairlift at Le Semnoz ski resort, near Annecy, as the resort had to close temporarily due to the lack of snow. Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

Nearly half of France's ski resorts are currently closed because of a lack of snow following an unseasonably warm New Year - so what should you do if you have a skiing holiday booked? And will travel insurance cover no snow?


Resorts in the Alps, Pyrenees and Jura have been forced to close over the past week as unseasonably warm temperatures melted the snow.

Historically, people who want to ensure good snow have been advised to book in the coldest months of January and February, with the February school holidays a peak time for ski resorts and school ski trips.

So does this advice still hold up as the planet warms and the Alps see less and less snow?


There's no doubt that the long-term trend is towards many snow-free Alpine areas - over the past century the average temperature in the Alps has risen by 2C, almost double the global temperature rise.


Rising temperatures mean melting glaciers, a rising snow level (meaning, snow falls only at higher altitudes) and a shorter ski season.

In the long term, National Geographic predicts a 50 percent reduction in snow in the Alps by 2100.

In addition to closures because of a lack of snow, rising temperatures also mean a higher risk of avalanches, so even resorts that do have snow see more temporary closures due to avalanche risk.

READ ALSO How climate change left French ski resorts fighting for survival

Short term

But what about the rest of the 2023 season?

French weather forecaster Météo France predicts that temperatures will fall again by the middle of January, and ski resorts are pinning their hopes on more snow which will allow them to reopen and take advantage of the February bookings. 

The European long-range forecast suggests that spring will be warmer than normal, so the ski season is likely to end early.


As temperatures rise so does the snow level, and so the altitude of the resort becomes increasingly important.

With the current average winter temperatures snowfall becomes erratic at below 2,000 metres and of the resorts that have closed their doors permanently, almost all are below 1,500 metres. Since 1951 a total of 169 resorts have closed for good, according to a study by the University of Grenoble - half of them because of a lack of snow.

Some of France's biggest resorts including Val Thorens, Tignes and Val d'Isere stand above 2,000 metres altitude and therefore have fewer problems with snowfall (for now).

High altitude to family-friendly - 15 of the best French ski resorts


Back in the 1980s, some of the lower-altitude French resorts began using artificial snow machines in order to boost the snow coverage.


The resort of Montclar was one of the areas that invested big money in 'snow guns' that kick in automatically to boost snow coverage on the pistes. However it is increasingly becoming too warm for the snow machines to operate, while there are rising concerns about the environmental impact of the extremely energy-heavy machines.

Instead, faced with an increasingly unreliable snowfall, many French ski resorts are diversifying and offering alternative activities for days when skiing is not possible - from snowshoeing, luge and paragliding to spas and shopping.

In some areas, ski lifts have been opened to hikers and many resorts are promoting the year-round joys of Alps and their attractions for hikers, cyclists and extreme sports fans.

Local authorities in the Alps are running an 'Obsolete Installations' campaign in which workers dismantle ski lifts that have been left to rust in the closed-down lower-altitude resorts. Twenty old ski lifts have been dismantled since 2001.


But if you had your heart set on skiing, can you get your money back if you cancel?

As ever, it's all in the small print of your travel insurance policy but in most cases the answer is no.

Some specialist travel insurance policies have 'piste closure coverage' that kicks in if the piste in your resort is closed for any reason - too little snow, avalanche risk, etc. However this is a small daily payment (usually between €10 and €50 a day) that is intended to cover the cost of travelling to a neighbouring resort to ski or snowboard.

Some policies will also refund specific things like the cost of ski passes or ski lessons if slopes are closed.


However virtually no policies cover the cost of cancelling that holiday altogether - including flights or accommodation - due to a lack of snow.  

Since the pandemic, some tourism operators - especially small businesses like chalet hire - still offer free cancellation or postponement, so check the details of your booking.



The Local 2023/01/07 09:03

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