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

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

Booking a ski holiday in France has become increasingly complicated due to rising temperatures. Here is what to know if your trip to the mountains is set to be more rainy than snowy.


While high altitude French ski resorts, particularly those in the northern Alps, continue to have enough snow and cold temperatures for skiing and snowboarding, lower-altitude locations in the Jura, Vosges, Massif Central and Pyrenees have struggled in recent years.

Some resorts have had to shut down entirely, while others may delay openings or close certain runs due to a lack of 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, caused by the climate crisis, 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 2024 season?

French weather forecaster Météo France predicted in early February that the month would be mild, with average temperatures set to be above normal during the shortest month of the year.

As of mid-February, snow cover in the Alps was considered to be "in good supply above 2,400m, but significantly less at lower altitudes", according to reporting by 20 Minutes.


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).

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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. Over two dozen 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. If possible, you might consider simply waiting to book daily ski passes until arrival.


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.

What can I do to check the snow levels?

If you have a trip booked, you can check in advance the snow level at your resort's website or by looking it up on Météo France.

Ski resorts routinely update their websites with the latest snow reports - and many include webcams that show current weather conditions. It’s a good idea to check those out to decide whether you need your skis or your hiking boots before you head off on holiday this month.


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