Monday, January 15, 2007

Rainy days, no-snow days, always get me down

Here's something to celebrate - we aren't trying to ski in Europe. At many ski resorts across Europe, there's more mud than snow. World Cup race courses are flanked by dead, brown grass. Tourists twirl umbrellas in the streets rather than clump around in ski boots. It's depressing, no?
Here's the AP story:
WENGEN, Switzerland (AP) The telephone hot lines at Europe’s ski resorts have gone cold. Most of those who bother to call are greeted with depressing news of high temperatures and lack of snow. “No winter sports are possible again today,” is the recorded message on the “snow phone” for Oberhof — a top German training area for ski jumping, bobsled and biathlon. “With the current warm climate it’s very clear that things have become completely crazy,” says the Meteo France national weather service recording. “We’re in winter and the temperature in the valleys is the equivalent of the end of March.” Tourism in the Alps is crucial for European economies, with upto 80 million tourists and 160 million ski days in Austria, France, Switzerland and Germany each year. Though a few lucky areas have snow, the situation is bleak for the majority. Much of Europe has seen record-high temperatures in January. In France, it’s been raining at an altitude of 8,200 feet and most ski resorts are below that. Only a few high-altitude stations— such as Tignes, Alpe d’Huez and La Plagne — are escaping the depressing drizzle. Tourist offices say February hotel bookings at French resorts are down, with only 40 percent to 60 percent of rooms reserved so far. The French are booking ski holidays at the last minute. Many are opting instead for sunny destinations such as North Africa or the Antilles. In Chamonix, France, one of the world’s top ski destinations, the temperature this week reached 54 degrees. Only about 60 percent of the resort’s slopes are open. Lean on snow and unable to make more on its World Cup course because of mild temperatures, Chamonix was forced to hand over its races to another French resort, Val d’Isere, which itself lost races earlier in the season. Hotel bookings at Swiss resorts have not been affected because tourists are lured by the sunny weather in the mountains, even if they can’t ski, Swiss Tourism said. In fact, ski resort restaurants, bars and pubs are thriving. The food and dining industry in the ski-rich Graubunden canton enjoyed a 10 percent increase in sales. However, daily lift ticket sales dipped slightly compared to last year. “Tourists are still booking. They trust there will be snow soon,” said Swiss Tourism spokesman Roger Waber. “Of course that could all change. Tourists could start canceling their reservations if there’s still no snow the next two weeks.” Less than 40 percent of slopes were open at the posh resort of Gstaad, Switzerland — known as “The Beverly Hills of the Alps”and a hot spot for celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Roger Moore and Paris Hilton. At Wengen — a World Cup host this week — organizers scrapped a men’s super-combination race Friday after the famous downhill course was damaged by rain. A fragile 2.8-mile white stripe that snakes down the Lauberhorn mountain, the course is flanked by endless blankets of grass and thick green moss on either side. Ski, snowboard and toboggan rentals at the drizzly resort have dropped 25 percent to 30 percent the last couple of weeks, said Markus Zumbuehl, owner of the Alpia Sport shop. “The hotels are full because of the races, but it’s vital for the village that the races go ahead. They’re an important commercial for us,” Zumbuehl said. Some World Cup venues can’t decide where to make snow first. Economic logic says the recreational slopes, but races receive wide television coverage in Europe. Calling off the races can lead to a rash of ski vacation cancellations. Low-altitude Kitzbuehel, Austria, home of the famous Hahnenkamm races, also is suffering. Mountain operators have banned public use of the race slope to preserve the snow there for the Jan. 26-28 races. The event is in danger of being moved to St. Moritz,Switzerland, where colder weather has allowed snowmaking. At Spindleruv Mlyn in the Czech Republic, snow is almost nonexistent.. So Czech adventure outfit Yellow Point earlier this season came up with “No Snow passes” — which it is now optimistically renaming “Apres-Ski Pass” — offering non-winter pursuits such as zorbing (rolling down a slope inside an inflatable balloon) and bridging (crossing a 700-foot rope bridge over the village dam). “There’s no snow,” Yellow Point director Ales Koca said. “Skiing is possible only on three slopes, but it’s not good. So we needed to come up with something else for people to do.” In the Italian Alps, where dandelions were sprouting over the Christmas holiday, resorts are relying on artificial snow. “We had very little snow in early December and since then it hasn’t snowed,” said Gianfranco Talamini, director of a Ski pass office in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a popular ski resort in northeastern Italy. Snowmaking cannons should allow the women’s World Cup events there to go ahead Jan. 19-21. But the freestyle world championships in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, scheduled for January, were postponed until March because there’s no snow.

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