Latest: Snow cover in 2024 and the future of the French ski industry

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Latest: Snow cover in 2024 and the future of the French ski industry
A skier rides on a slope lacking snow and with grass at Cordon ski resort near Megeve, with the Mont Blanc mountain in the background in France on February 12, 2024. (Photo by OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP)

Skiing brings millions of tourists to France each year, but guaranteeing sufficient snow quantities has already become challenging for many of the country's resorts.


France has long been a popular skiing destination, with beautiful resorts in the Alps, the Pyrenees and Jura mountains. The industry attracts around 40 million visitors per year, but that is expected to change in the coming years due to the climate crisis.

In many areas, the effects have already begun, as it becomes increasingly difficult to guarantee there will be snow on the pistes in mid to lower altitude areas.

Some resorts have closed entirely, while many have shut off sections of the mountain due to a lack of snow.


What's the situation for winter 2024?

Despite a cold spell in January, temperatures have remained above seasonal averages this winter, creating problems for the weeks in February that are traditionally peak season for French ski resorts.

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So far, the Alps are fairing better in terms of snow than other French mountain ranges.

Nevertheless, snow was virtually non-existent in the Alpine valleys and, despite a few exceptions, at most medium elevation resorts, it was patchy. 'Significant' snow accumulations (greater than 50cm) were concentrated in the areas that are at 1,800m above sea level.

As for the Pyrenees, the situation has been even worse. As the French school holidays enter their second week, the national weather service, Météo France, increased its rain-snow limit to "around 2,800m to 3,000m" - meaning that below 2,800m snow is likely to fall as rain.

The Pyrenees have seen a 70 percent shortfall in snow cover this year compared with the median of the last 20 years. In early February, only 3,935 km of the mountain range was covered in snow. In comparison, the yearly median in early February is 13,087 km of snow-cover.

In general, the winter of 2024 in the Pyrenees has been marked by "few significant snow events, too often followed by rainy periods at high altitude", according to reporting by Actu Fr.


As for the smaller mountain ranges, like the Massif Central, the Jura and the Vosges, snowfall has been localised and has largely stuck to the ridges of mountains, with flakes typically seen at very high altitude (3,000 metres).

Due to the conditions, several resorts have had to close or shut down runs. In the northern Alps, the Saint-Colomban-des-Villards resort, which starts at 1,150m and goes up to a maximum of 2,223m, announced on Monday it would close its pistes due to insufficient snow. According to France Bleu, the resort had not seen any snow for several weeks. 

Le Parisien also reported that on Friday, the Mourtis ski area in the Pyrenees closed its ski area, also due to a lack of snow. To help compensate visitors for the lack of skiing, the resort offered the public a new range of activities including picnics and treasure hunts.

Is skiing coming to an end in France?

Warming temperatures have already started having an impact. According to France's national observatory on the effects of climate change, French mountains are losing an average of 20kg of snow per metre squared each decade.


The decline has been most pronounced in the southern Alps, with a 20 percent decline per decade, followed by the northern Alps with a 12 percent decline, and the Pyrenees with a seven percent drop.

Overall, experts estimate that France will lose between 10 to 40 percent of its snow cover by 2050.

Carlo Carmagnola, a researcher at Météo France and coordinator of the snow study scheme, Climsnow, told Capital FR that the situation will be worse during the second half of of the 21st century.

"The IPCC suggests that we could lose between 50 and 90 percent of our snow cover. All this is based on the assumption of the most catastrophic scenarios, which unfortunately are not impossible today.

"These pessimistic projections predict that Alpine skiing in France as a whole will be finished by 2100. Regardless, there will be no more skiing in the Pyrenees, the Vosges, the Massif Central, the Jura and Corsica. This will probably also be the case in the Alps, with the exception of resorts above 2,500 metres," he said.

Will high altitude resorts be able to guarantee snow?

The effects are mostly keenly felt at lower altitude resorts, but will even the high-altitude resorts be able to guarantee snow in the immediate and medium term future?

In theory, yes. Carmagnola referenced a few high altitude resorts that would most likely stay in business in the coming decades, such as Val d'Isère, Tignes, Grands Montets and Val Thorens.


"No two resorts are the same. Some will benefit from better snow conditions because they are better positioned. But very few will still be economically viable because of the lack of continuity in the snow cover," he summarised to the French magazine.

Even though France's high-altitude resorts have generally been spared the winter snow worries and may be able to hang on longer than their lower-altitude counterparts that doesn't mean they are immune from the climate crisis.

The long ski seasons offered at such resorts will likely be cut shorter, with later opening times and earlier closures, and locations that once offered year-round skiing may lose the ability to do so in the near future.


The Grande-Motte glacier - the lowest point of which is some 2,600m above sea level - closed for two weeks in June 2022, and the extended heatwave that troubled France led to the glacier splitting in two, Le Monde reported. 

During the summer of 2023, dedicated skiers determined to take on the challenges of the glacier found themselves scrambling across 40m of rocks to reach it - compared to previous seasons when they could ski all the way.

The glacier near Tignes makes the resort popular for year-round winter sports, and resort officials told the French paper that they planned to continue making the most of the glacier “by adapting” in an effort to ensure skiing can continue in the region for the foreseeable future.

As such, ageing lifts will be replaced, but no new ones are planned, with the intention of protecting autumn skiing and extending the spring ski season, officials said. 

Resort officials also plan to accelerate plans to further develop summer mountain sports activities, such as mountain biking and hiking, and boating on the lake - which will be developed for more tourism.

Should people stop planning ski trips to the French Alps?

Not necessarily, but you will want to plan more. If you are hoping to spend your entire holiday skiing, then you will have fewer options and you may need budget more than in previous years.

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

As mentioned above, high-altitude resorts above 2,500 metres offer the highest possibility of snow, but they tend to be the most expensive. 

In a 2024 ranking of snow levels by Le Point, Alpe d'Huez took first place for the largest snowpack. The ski area ranges 1,800m to 3,300m, with average snow cover at 90cm and running up to 450cm at high altitude.

After Alpe d'Huez, Tignes followed as the second snowiest. The ski area had an average of 120cm, with up to 400cm at high altitude.

Val d'Isère came in third place, and Les Arcs ranked fourth.

For those less focused on skiing or with budgetary constraints, mid-level resorts will likely remain an alternative at least until 2050. However, snow levels are unpredictable, making it difficult to plan a trip in advance.

As such, it is best to wait to reserve certain items like ski rentals and day passes until absolutely necessary.

Many of these resorts are adapting to the climate crisis by offering alternative activities, so it is wise to see what other options are available prior to booking. 

As far as reimbursements are concerned, some travel agencies offer snow insurance, such as Travelski - however it should be noted that this doesn't allow for cancellation of the entire holiday. In most cases, only ski passes or the cost of hiring ski equipment would be reimbursed, while some policies offer a travel stipend to cover the cost of travelling to a different resort for a day's skiing.

Reimbursement policies depend on the resort. Some ski areas will allow total reimbursements of ski passes or ski school if there is a full closure, while others may offer you a credit to use at a later date.


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