Once upon a time, the interconnected French ski areas of Val d’Isere and Tignes would spin their chairlifts 365 days a year, weather permitting. They are known as the resorts with the longest ski seasons in France. But then it started getting warm.
Espace Killy is the name of the large ski area network that intertwines Val d’Isere and Tignes, which is situated on the Grand Motte Glacier. Because of thinning glacial cover in the Alps as a result of a warming climate, Espace Killy has since shifted its business model, tossing out the notion of daily, year-round skiing and riding. For the past several years, the resort would run its ski lifts from September to May, closing down for a few weeks before opening again in June, where it typically would stay open until August so that it could say it was open for 12 months out of the year. Then it would open back up in September and run lifts until temporary closure again in May, allowing for a seven consecutive month ski season.
Over recent years, however, Espace Killy has been missing more of these planned September openings due to a lack of snow or has only been able to open extremely limited terrain. Last year, after a troublesome summer season with already minimal snow to work with, the resort closed down for the month of October amidst intense heatwaves across Europe.
This summer, Tignes and Val d’Isere did open up in June as planned and have managed to remain open. However, now that August has rolled around, the resorts have announced that they will be closing at the beginning of September and not opening again for nearly another two months.
Both Espace Killy ski areas have announced opening days of December 2, 2023, with skiing and riding operations firmly shut down until then. Along with Les 2 Alpes, another French ski area that offered summer skiing from May to June this year, a switch from its previous June to August operations schedule, these three ski areas are the only major resorts that offer summer skiing and riding in the French Alps at all.
Back in 2011, when Tignes would run ski operations daily until early September and then close before re-opening for its winter season a few weeks later, a report about glacial retreat in the French Alps showed that the Grand Motte glacier had already lost 30% of its mass over the past 40 years. Since then, researchers have suggested that the rate at which the glaciers have been thawing has only increased.
By pushing back its opening to December, Espace Killy will run its lifts for six consecutive months and forfeit its title as the French ski center with the longest season; Les 2 Alpes ran its lifts for over seven months straight in the 2022-23′ winter, including its two months of summer skiing from May to June. With the available window of skiing and riding at these resorts shortening and researchers stressing the lasting impacts of climate change, to what extent will European ski resorts trim down their ski seasons as the glaciers of the Alps continue to shed precious weight?
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