Winter sports are facing many challenges. Can they survive? | The Economist

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The 2018 Winter Olympics will see athletes from a record-breaking 92 countries compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But winter sports face a double threat, from climate change and ageing populations Click here to subscribe to The Economist on YouTube: http://econ.st/2ErUCSr Winter sports are under threat. The multi-billion dollar industry – the livelihood for many mountain communities – faces a double problem. The popularity of skiing and snowboarding is declining in the rich world and resorts are having to cope with a warming climate. This luxury hotel is the birthplace of winter sports. In the 19th-century, Switzerland was a popular summer destination for English tourists. The owner of the Kulm at the time, Johannes Badrutt, wanted to fill his hotel all year round. So in 1864 he made a whiskey-fuelled wager with some English guests. The Englishmen returned for Christmas and became so hooked on snow pursuits that they stayed for three months. Soon others followed, and winter holidays were born. Along with their tweed suits and pinafores, the English guests brought their love of competition. With the post-war economic boom and the introduction of mechanised ski-lifts in the 1960s, winter sports soon became all the rage. Fashionable ski-suits appeared on the slopes, and while the style of the time was questionable, the industry brought wealth to poor mountain valleys. But these days the outlook is darkening. Skiers in rich countries are gradually leaving the sport and younger people are less inclined to take it up. Many head to cheaper, hotter destinations for winter sun. In the last ten years the number of skiers in the world’s major-ski destinations has fallen. Locals here are worried. For St Moritz and other mountain towns like it, winter sports are essential to people’s livelihoods. Another major worry is the warming climate. Since pre-industrial times average global temperatures have risen by one degree. But the Alps are well above average. Temperatures here have risen by two degrees. In the Swiss town of Davos, scientists have been measuring the amount of snowfall and the depth of the snow pack, for nearly a century. Even though there was a lot of snow in Davos this year, long-term trends show snowfall has been declining for decades. And the depth of the snowpack has been thinning since the 1950s. Ski resorts have responded to the problem by investing heavily in snow-making machines. In some places, snow-making has allowed resorts to extend the ski season. But in a warming climate, resorts will increasingly look like this. Many may close by the end of the century because they will not have enough natural snow and they will be too warm even to make artificial snow. Take this region of the eastern Alps. Scientists calculate that if temperatures increase by two degrees, about 15% of resorts may have to give up on skiing. If temperatures rise by four degrees, 60% may be forced to close. The big hope for winter sports now lies in Asia. Here in Pyeongchang, South Korea, they are hosting this year’s Winter Olympics. The popularity of this year’s Games - and the next in China in 2022 – is crucial to attract new fans to the sport. China and South Korea are both cold in winter, but neither Olympic venue has much natural snow. Yet the organisers here are confident the Games will be a success. In Chinese ski resorts, such as this one in Chongli, winter sports are already booming. The number of skiers and snowboarders is increasing by about 20% a year. It is estimated that nearly 500 new resorts will be built in China ahead of the 2022 Winter Games. In 1864 Johannes Bedrut made a gamble that paid off. The Kulm Hotel has remained a favourite destination for wealthy winter-sports fans. St Moritz is high up in the Alps, so the fun is likely to continue for decades to come. But even here they will have to rely more heavily on snow cannons. The cost will be passed on to the skiers, making the sport even more expensive and exclusive. On top of this, power-hungry snow cannons produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, further melting the snow and ice. Daily Watch: mind-stretching short films throughout the working week. For more from Economist Films visit: http://econ.st/2EsDNqt Check out The Economist’s full video catalogue: http://econ.st/20IehQk Like The Economist on Facebook: http://econ.st/2EpfQk7 Follow The Economist on Twitter: http://econ.st/2EsDOux Follow us on Instagram: http://econ.st/2EuFh3F Follow us on LINE: http://econ.st/1WXkOo6 Follow us on Medium: http://econ.st/2EvoFsD
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2018-02-08 10:43:20
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