One in 8 ski destinations will lose all of their natural snow cover because of climate change by the end of the century, an analysis published this month in the journal PLOS One suggests.

The chilling prediction points to falling snow cover in seven major mountainous ski regions worldwide, with potential effects for local economies, vulnerable species and winter sports lovers alike.

Researchers paired geographic data about current ski area locations and current snow cover days with climate models that predict what would happen in a variety of emissions scenarios. They looked at seven mountain regions worldwide: the European Alps, Andes Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, Australian Alps, Japanese Alps, Southern Alps in New Zealand and Rocky Mountains.

Overall, they found that annual snow days will “significantly decrease worldwide with climate change” under all three emissions scenarios. The Southern Hemisphere will be hit hardest, they predict, with 78 percent of ski areas in the Australian Alps losing more than half of their average snow days per year by 2100.

The United States will be affected, too, with the Appalachians losing 37 percent of their mean annual snow cover days and the Rocky Mountains losing 23 percent. The researchers note that, despite losing similar numbers of snow days as other ranges, the Rockies will “remain relatively snow reliable” and can count on an average of 202 snow cover days per year by the century’s end.

Most concerningly, 13 percent of current ski areas will experience a 100 percent decrease in snow cover days by the end of the century, the study says. And the researchers project another 20 percent will experience a decline of at least 50 percent. Highly populated areas will be affected more than those with lower populations, and year-round snow cover in current ski areas “will nearly disappear worldwide,” the researchers predict.

Instead, ski areas will probably concentrate in higher elevations, and the ski season may shift closer toward spring. Artificial snow-making and physical adaptations such as slope contouring may slow the melt, but they are not likely to counterbalance snow cover loss in the most extreme climate scenarios.

The drop in annual snow days is “socio-economically and ecologically concerning,” the researchers write, citing potential economic effects on ski resorts and local economies, falling biodiversity in mountain areas and the encroachment of the ski industry into cooler territories as snow diminishes.



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