Swiss ski season's start stalled by snow shortage

AP News
Posted: Dec 01, 2011 12:36 PM
Swiss ski season's start stalled by snow shortage

Unusually warm, dry weather has Switzerland's ski resorts on edge.

Newspaper front-pages, weather reports and ski websites are showing grim images of snow-free slopes, threatening the traditional start of the ski season on the first weekend of December.

"It would be ridiculous to turn off the webcams," Veronique Kanel, a spokeswoman for Swiss Tourism, said Thursday. "It's a fact that there is very little snow at the moment."

Like many resorts, Davos, in Switzerland's southeast canton (state) of Graubuenden, has fired up its snow cannons in an effort to put some artificial white on the pistes.

But even the best Swiss snow engineering is struggling because temperatures are too high. On Thursday, just 11 kilometers (7 miles) of Davos' 318 kilometers (198 miles) of ski slopes were navigable.

Kanel said some lift owners and hoteliers are now trying to lure tourists with special offers _ also meant to counter the strong Swiss franc _ while praying for colder weather to come.

She acknowledged, though, that "should there not be snow until mid-December we will have a problem."

According to the World Meteorological Organization, Switzerland is on track to suffer one of its three driest years on record.

The village of Verbier in southwest Switzerland is hoping skiers see the sunny side as they breeze down snow-free mountains on a one-mile stretch of prepared piste.

"We are providing a different and unique experience," said tourism chief Yan Baczkowski. "You actually get to ski in the middle of the fields."

In the village itself, with temperatures hovering above 12 degrees Celsius (54 Fahrenheit), many ski rental shops were shut. Waiters in T-shirts served a trickle of customers at open-air cafes.

Verbier _ which counts British pop singer James Blunt and entrepreneur Richard Branson among its regulars _ needs 50 centimeters (20 inches) of snow to afford visitors a good run, said Baczkowski.

"Yes we are late compared to other years," he said. "But we are not worried. The snow will come."

The only consolation for Swiss resorts is that their French, Italian and Austrian neighbors are also sweating under the heat.

On Wednesday, two Women's World Cup ski races scheduled for Dec. 10 and 11 in Val d'Isere, just across the border from Verbier in France, were canceled because of a lack of snowfall.


AP writer Frank Jordans contributed from Geneva.