Unseasonably warm conditions and low snowfall have forced the closure of some low-end ski resorts in recent days – as Europe started the New Year with record-breaking temperatures.

Bare mountains and muddy runs have raised fears about the effects of climate change on many mountain towns that rely on winter tourism.

Year-end temperatures in France were the warmest in 25 years, according to national forecaster Meteo France.

It was a similar picture in Switzerland, where a weather station in the Jura Range saw a record daily average of 18.1C on New Year’s Day.

January temperature records were broken in several European countries at the start of 2023, with one meteorologist describing it as “hard to fathom”.

The Northern Alps and French Pyrenees are particularly struggling for snow and some resorts, after barely a month open, have had to close until conditions improve.

One of the latest to close was Ax 3 Domaines, near France’s border with Andorra, which closed on Saturday after just a few weeks.

Le Gates and Morzine, part of the popular Portes de Soleil region, each currently have just two runs open.

“The season got off to a good start with a cold snap in mid-December, which gave everyone some whiteout,” said Laurent Reynaud of Domaines Sables de France, which represents resorts and lift operators.

“Then, last week, there was a lot of rain and warm temperatures, so a certain number of runs had to be closed again.”

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Lack of snow on European ski slopes

Switzerland’s Adelboden, which is hosting the World Cup of Skiing on Saturday, is to run the race on 100% artificial snow this year.

The Swiss resort of Splugen-Tambo also said on Monday it was closing “until further notice”.

“Unfortunately, due to a lack of snow, heavy rain and high temperatures, we must close our ski resort from January 2, 2023, until further notice,” it said in a statement.

There is still some decent snow available – near normal snowfall on the southern Alps and slopes above 2,200 meters – but skiers and snowboarders will have to head higher.

Many low-altitude cities are losing out, however, and are increasingly planning a future that focuses more on year-round activities like hiking.

‘Truly Unparalleled’

Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic are among other countries that have already broken temperature records this year, with conditions reminiscent of spring.

Warsaw recorded 18.9C on January 1 – breaking the previous record by more than 5C, followed by 19.4C in Ohlsbach in southwest Germany and 25.1C in Bilbao in northern Spain.

Prague also had its hottest New Year’s Eve in 247 years of records, with temperatures reaching 17.7C.

It has been unusually warm in many European countries, such as the Czech Republic.  Photo: AP
It has been unusually warm in many European countries, such as the Czech Republic. Photo: AP

London-based meteorologist Scott Duncan tweeted on New Year’s Day: “We just had the hottest January on record for many countries in Europe. Truly unprecedented in the modern record.”

Wim Thierry, professor of climate science at the University of Brussels, said the jet stream, which brings warm air from climate zones into Europe, has helped produce warmer temperatures.

But he warned that the impact of climate change would drastically change winter tourism in Europe.

“By the end of the century (it’s) just going to end… skiing in the Alps as we know it.

“In the future, these problems will be exacerbated, because as long as the climate continues to warm, the snow will continue to melt.”

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