In 2003 the United Nations Environment Program released a report suggesting that hundreds of ski resorts around the world will go out of business as a result of global warming.
The snowline is expected to rise by about 300 metres in the next 50 to 70 years in the best case scenario, driving skiers into the high alpine, while the season itself gets shorter and shorter with fewer days of reliable snow.
Its a threat that Australias small but vibrant ski industry is taking seriously.
In 2004 the government worked with the State of Victoria and ski operators to develop the Alpine Resorts 2020 strategy. In early May the resorts followed up with the launch of a climate change awareness campaign based on the North American National Ski Areas Associations Keep Winter Cool campaign. Arthur DeJong, manager of mountain planning and environmental resources for Whistler-Blackcomb, was invited to Melbourne as the keynote speaker for the launch at the Alpine Resorts Sustainability Forum.
His advice to ski operators was to be proactive do what you can to address climate change, while also working to become viable four-season resorts.
"Theyve already been very proactive in the sense that they recognize who climate change is likely to impact in their country," said DeJong. "They know they need to be doing the things were doing. Theres a new focus on snowmaking and summer grooming, so runs can be open with less snow.
"Its also important to take a four-seasons approach so even if the resorts no longer receive snow, or as much snow as in the past, they have diversified their offering enough that they dont need to rely entirely on winter sports."
DeJong says that all of the operators would prefer to have snow, and are aggressively looking at ways to address climate change nationally.
The conservative Australian government has rejected the Kyoto pact on global warming, but there is still strong public support within the country for aggressive programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite threats to the viability of the resorts, DeJong says most people are optimistic. High-end chalets at Mt. Buller are still retailing for over $1 million.
"There is a huge potential there for people who are looking to cool off in the summer months, as long as its slightly cooler in the mountains than the city," said DeJong.
"Theres a little mountain biking as well, although that hasnt really been developed. The resorts there are also built mostly on the mountaintops, so there are no lakes or golf courses. Its going to be a challenge, definitely, but its not impossible."
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