According to 40 years of data from the EU's climate monitor, snowfall is declining across the Northern Hemisphere. The fall is most pronounced in middle latitudes like the US and European mountain regions that harbor most ski resorts. Many had early closings last winter when unusual warmth arrived early. Winters now average 2.3°F hotter than a century back, accelerating in recent decades.
The changes already eliminated Bolivia's once-highest ski area and forced the closure of a lower French resort. Such small, low-altitude resorts are most vulnerable as warmer winters make operations untenable. But even some name-brand destinations face trouble.
Resorts at higher elevations have better odds of reliable snow. Colorado and the Alps still offer some of the best skiing because their base elevations start where others peak. Even there, the snowpack is less reliable, though machine-made snow fills gaps, making snow carries environmental costs.
The shrinking snowpack worldwide shows climate change's grip tightening. But die-hard skiers and resort operators continue adapting. Groomed slopes may open later, but advanced snowguns keep them white through the season. Multi-resort companies like Vail are hedging bets, acquiring higher terrain to balance out lower-elevation operations.
Destinations like Alaska may prove new meccas as famous spots around Tahoe and in Vermont grapple with balmier winters. Resorts once notorious for icy conditions may find themselves with better powder that draws visitors. Skiing itself shows no signs of disappearing even as the activity migrates to stay ahead of warming.
Operators warn the coming decades may not resemble the past. But resilient fans continue embracing the mountains each winter to celebrate the uniqueness of each season. One thing remains certain – the joys of carving first tracks on fresh snow await those willing to search out winter's cold-weather bastions.