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Spain's ski resorts face early closure as snow melts under January heat

The Local Spain
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Spain's ski resorts face early closure as snow melts under January heat
Spanish ski resorts are being forced to close due to lack of snow. Photo: Xue Guangjian / Pexels

January may be peak skiing time in Spain but abnormally high temperatures have meant that much of the snow that has fallen has melted or become slushy, creating poor and unsafe conditions for skiers.

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In the Aragonese Pyrenees, at one of Spain’s best ski resorts - Formigal, the situation this year is even worse compared to last year. On January 28th 2023, there were between 50 and 190 centimetres of snow and 162 skiable kilometres.

But on January 28th 2024, there were only between 15 and 45 centimetres of snow and only 45 skiable kilometres.

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Over in the Catalan Pyrenees at Baqueira Beret, the country’s largest ski area, the situation is similar. The snow quality there is more like what you’d expect in spring, meaning that the international Freeride World Tour competition that was supposed to have been held there, has had to be suspended.

It’s the same story in the resorts further west in Castilla y León – mainly San Isidro and Valle Laciana-Leitariegos.

The sun and high humidity of recent weeks meant that the snow that does fall melts almost straight away, leaving San Isidro with only two skiable kilometres and Leitariegos with only one.

The situation has become so bad that some resorts have even considered closing certain areas. “What is offered is in good condition, but if there are no adequate conditions that are safe for skiers, it cannot be opened," the director of the San Isidro Winter Resort, Olga Álvarez explained.

If more snow doesn’t fall soon "the economic losses for the area are going to be very serious," she added.

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In the famous Andalusian ski resort – the Sierra Nevada, the situation is not any better. Here it’s not even possible to use snow cannons due to the high temperatures. If it is not cold enough, artificial snow cannot be produced, and recently the resort has been experiencing temperatures of around 15C.

The problem has been ongoing since the start of the season last month as many Spanish ski stations even struggled to open due to the lack of snow.

During the winter of 2022-23, the situation was not much different and less than half ski resorts in Spain could stay open the whole season. Only those at high altitudes could continue operating. A total of 17 ski resorts were forced to close, while only 14 remained open.

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This situation is of course exacerbated by climate change, which has been causing problems all over the country, from multiple searing heatwaves and severe droughts in Catalonia and Andalusia to forest fires and poor crop harvests.

Ski resorts in the Cantabrian Mountains face significant challenges due to climate change, endangering their future. There has been a 10 percent decrease in snow there due to increased temperatures and reduced precipitation, limiting the presence of natural snow to January to March only.

There is also a growing dependence on artificial snow, the viability of which is threatened by global warming.

This raises the question about the future of winter sports tourism in Spain and the sustainability of the measures taken to counteract the lack of snow, such as cannons.

Spain's Ministry of Ecological Transition has even warned that ski stations located below 2,000 metres could be forced to close and pivot to other tourism models.

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