Climate change: powerless against the weather: winter sports are fighting for survival

Hotel rooms are cancelled, tickets refunded, and a solution must also be found for contracts concluded with catering companies.

Climate change: powerless against the weather: winter sports are fighting for survival

Hotel rooms are cancelled, tickets refunded, and a solution must also be found for contracts concluded with catering companies.

The lack of snow and its consequences are currently not only presenting many World Cup organizers, but entire winter sports resorts with enormous economic challenges.

But what to do if the white gold is missing?

"Even if there were enough funds available, you cannot influence the climate," said Anna Kornhaas of the German Press Agency. She is press spokesperson for the Ski Jumping World Cup in Hinterzarten. The execution of the competition planned for the end of January is - of course - questionable.

The economic damage is unclear

In other places, the fight against climate change has long been lost. The alpine ski races in Garmisch-Partenkirchen have been cancelled. Instead of a winter wonderland, green-grey mountain landscapes characterize the picture on the Kandahar. The cancellation was an economic disaster, admitted the head of the organization team, Martina Betz. "We have a big loss. However, the amount cannot be quantified yet."

Such a World Cup weekend flushes money into various coffers. Restaurateurs, accommodation providers and retailers benefit from the thousands of ski fans who make the pilgrimage to small winter sports towns such as Garmisch, Hinterzarten or Klingenthal. The associations cash in on the TV revenue. Usually.

The economic damage that threatens in the event of a cancellation can hardly be quantified. The system is too branched, too many parties are involved in a World Cup. But one thing is clear: the damage would be massive.

Hardly any snow-sure areas - many cancellations

The mild winter hits the Alpines hard. An enormous amount of snow is required for the often kilometer-long slopes. Races in Sölden, Zermatt, Lech, Beaver Creek, Gröden, Zagreb and Garmisch have been cancelled. In the Nordic Combined competitions, Klingenthal and Chaux-Neuve have hit two of the six venues so far. The biathletes in Ruhpolding had to tremble for a long time last week.

Winter sports paradises are disappearing, as an international research team showed in a study published in 2022. Without a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, most of the previous Olympic Games hosts would not be able to host the Games again in 2050.

The Strasbourg geography professor Carmen de Jong added: "There are no longer any ski areas in Europe that are guaranteed snow." For her, snow-sure means being able to ski at any time between December 1st and the end of March. The area should not be dependent on artificial snow or snow that is transported to the competition site.

Skiing harms the environment

Part of the truth is that winter sports themselves make their own negative contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Especially in the case of the Alpine, the travel-intensive calendar is heavily criticized. So the ski entourage started in Europe in autumn, then it went to North America. Mikaela Shiffrin and Co. are currently racing again in Austria and Italy before heading to the USA again in February.

De Jong also draws attention to the environmental impact of reservoirs, which are necessary for large-scale artificial snowmaking. The water for this often comes from great distances, and pumping it up causes high energy costs. A tightrope walk, because no (artificial) snow usually means no winter sports.

Rethinking is necessary

Ski jumpers do best without snow. Landing on mats is a tried and tested concept. "I think it's good if we try to think all year round," said Norway's long-time national coach Alexander Stöckl with regard to climate change.

There are no mats at the Ski Jumping World Cup in Hinterzarten. "In order to be able to snow the system, at least minus five degrees Celsius are required and this on at least three days in order to be able to produce enough snow," said spokeswoman Kornhaas. The economic consequences in the event of a cancellation would be great for the spa town. "32 containers were ordered for the team area of ​​the 16 nations, rooms were booked that had to be canceled and other expenses were put into the preliminary planning."

Those responsible at the biathletes in Oberhof are more optimistic. The World Cup will be held there in February. Freezing temperatures are forecast throughout the coming days. In addition, around 35,000 cubic meters of snow are stored in the depots. That's almost four times as much as the organizers had in Ruhpolding.

"That's an amount of snow that we haven't had in this form in recent years, and it was always enough," said Hartmut Schubert, World Cup and Oberhof representative for the Thuringian state government.

The future of winter sports is at stake

Ultimately, everyone knows that nature makes the rules. No money in the world can replace snow. Rather, winter sports events must be rethought, in harmony with nature.

The ski jumpers showed how it could be done. Biathletes could switch to roller skis as they did in the summer, but for Alpine athletes the whole calendar would have to be pushed back. Only when winter sports reinvent themselves will their future be secured.

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