While exceptional warmth envelops France, the Vosges ski resorts are closing their slopes one by one and, pressed by global warming, are rethinking their tourist offer.
Light rain, mercury at 7 °, three tracks open in the twenties which range from 1,000 to 1,260 m altitude: on this Thursday morning, the Schnepfenried resort, on the Alsatian side of the Vosges, greatly reduced the sail area, after a snowy and rather successful first week of Christmas vacation.
In question, the astonishing warmth that is winning France, the latest illustration of global warming and has not spared the East, where temperatures are “close to records”, according to Météo France.
Several Vosges stations have temporarily lowered the curtain. At “Schnep”, the exceptionally mild temperatures reduced the snow to a skin of chagrin, exposing the grass of the mountain.
At the entrance to the resort, children and a few adult beginners slide down the green slope while a few hundred meters away, at the edge of the red, a dozen employees are busy putting together a track for the buttocks.
– Green Christmases –
At the wheel of his tractor, the manager of Schnepfenried, Nicolas Buhl, draws from a reserve pile of snow which he dumps large portions on the track, immediately flattened with large blows of shovels by his employees.
“At the start of the holidays, we had good snow cover” but the conditions then became “very particular, with a lot of rain, wind”, affecting the number of visitors and the turnover of this resort where more than forty people work winter, says Buhl.
The objective now is “to maintain the activity” until the end of the Christmas holidays even if it wants to be reassuring for the rest of the winter season: with still “a little snow” and “the quantities that we have in stock, it will be possible to have a very good season “.
“This is the first time that we come here”, explains Mirjam Stevens, 34 year old Dutchwoman, in Alsace with her husband and her two children aged 11 months and 4 years. “It’s a little disappointing, we see the green grass of the mountain instead of the snow”, slips the young woman, “worried” by the effects of global warming.
The Vosges are subject to “very significant natural variability”, and green Christmases, without flakes, regularly alternate with more snowy winters, shade Bruno Vermot-Desroches, snow referent for the massif at Météo France.
But global warming worsens this situation, with snow cover which, overall, “decreases”, he explains.
In a study published at the beginning of 2020, Météo France predicted in medium mountains, “by 2050 (…), a reduction in the duration of snow cover of several weeks and in the average winter thickness of 10 to 40%. “.
The Vosges resorts are therefore on the front line in the face of these disturbances. Some, like that of Ventron, last year, have even closed definitively, victim of the lack of snow.
Aware of the stakes, they think about alternative sources of income the rest of the year to sustain their activities and be less dependent on the winter season, the backbone of their economic model.
– “Alternatives” –
“This is something (which) we have been thinking about for several seasons” and the “+ four seasons +” is what is desired “, explains Nicolas Buhl. In 2013, the resort opened a tree climbing course and a “major project” of “hotel restructuring” to strengthen the accommodation offer is being considered.
“The future is the + four seasons +, that’s clear,” confirms Valérie Lanoë, communications officer at the Gérardmer tourist office, a town that hosts one of the most important resorts in the massif.
“Summer activities have been opened” this summer in the resort (scooters, electric bicycles or swincars rentals, etc.), continues Ms. Lanoë. A first for the “pearl of the Vosges” which traditionally looked towards the summer towards its lake.
“The idea is to open up to other activities that generate resources but do not require much operating costs,” says Cyril Braesch, director of the mixed union of the valley of Munster, on which the Schnepfenried depends.
The Vosges will undoubtedly still experience “beautiful winters”, predicts Bruno Vermot-Desroches. But the problem that will arise at the stations is that of “investment and return on investment”, he sums up. “We will have to find alternatives to all-ski, without necessarily excluding it”.