Snow tourism ‘white gold’

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Increasingly erratic snow coverage in the European Alps could prove a boon for Norwegian ski tourism. A group of competing resorts in Norway’s south have banded together to attract British charter flights direct to Fagernes for the first time, packed with snow-loving tourists.

The view from the peak of Totten (1,497m) at Hemsedal ski centre. The summit is easily accessed by lifts, and offers skiing of all abilities. Such reliable conditions are luring snow tourists to Norway, instead of traditional ski destinations in the European alps. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The view from the peak of Totten (1,497m) at Hemsedal ski centre. The summit is easily accessed by lifts, and offers skiing of all abilities. Such reliable conditions are luring snow tourists to Norway, instead of traditional ski destinations in the European alps. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Leirin airport in Fagernes boasts the shortest transfer time from plane to slopes of any European airport. Beitostølen resort, which is just 40 minutes away, has joined together with traditional rivals at Hemsedal and Geilo to cash in on their logistical advantage, newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported. UK travel company Crystal Ski’s first charter flight, carrying 189 passengers, arrived at Fagernes just before Christmas.

More important than a fast transfer is the guarantee of good snow. “Norway stands for absolute guaranteed snow,” said Crystal Ski Director, Trevor DeVilliers. “That’s not so in the alps.” His weekly Norwegian ski tours will run until the end of March, and more than half are already booked out.

“We have seen some problems, for example in the French Alps, where you can experience dream conditions and masses of snow, but also bare slopes  in the middle of winter,” said DeVilliers. “Furthermore, you have many opportunities for winter activities in Norway. There’s not only steep slopes, but cross country, dog sledding and others. People will get to experience the winter snow.”

Grim alps forecast
Climate researchers predict Nordic ski tourism will consolidate itself as the safest bet in the coming years, reported DN. Much climate modelling predicts a temperature increase of four degrees Celsius by the end of the century, which would have catastrophic effects for ski tourism.

A report by the Swedish Meteorological Institute (Sveriges Meteorologiska Institut, SMHI) said 87 percent of European alpine slopes are currently located in the alps, but a temperature increase of four degrees would leave three quarters of the descents without snow.

Oskar Landgren from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute (Meteorologisk institutt, MET) has worked with European scientists researching different snow scenarios in the alps, and their effects on winter tourism. “The uncertainty in the alps already means that new initiatives must be planned higher in the terrain,” Landgren explained. “But there is a limit how close to the summits you can build.”

Norway more stable, but won’t go unscathed
While Norway is set for more secure winter weather than the alps, MET researchers warned it will also feel the effects. “Higher temperatures at first mean more snow over a certain height,” explained climate researcher Rasmus Benestad. “But then it turns to rain. The major question of course is which heights we’re talking about. I want to believe we’ll get good snow conditions over 900 metres above sea level for the next two or three decades.”

Benestad predicts lower altitudes in eastern Norway will feel the impact of warm winds, which have blown across mountain ranges. “There, they lose the humidity from the sea and are dry when they come down to the lowlands,” he said. “Dry and warm wind takes humidity from the slopes, and since the wind moves we constantly get new warm, dry wind. It destroys the snow.”

For now, the climatologists predict Beitostølen, Hemsedal and Geilo’s ventures are safe. Their average temperatures are currently so low, they have a lot of breathing room. Crystal Ski’s Trevor DeVilliers  said his customers are satisfied. “In the alps, there’s not always snow where you stay, you have to take lifts up to the mountain to go skiing,” he explained. “In Norway there’s snow right outside the front door. That’s what people want.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate