French Ski Resort Closes For Good Due To Climate Change

by Simon Naylor | Published: September 14th, 2023 |  Ski News

La Sambuy, a small ski resort nestled in the French Alps near Annecy, has permanently closed its doors after struggling to stay open in recent warm winters. The municipal council made the decision in June to dismantle the ski lifts and shut down operations after six decades of business.

The resort sits at an altitude of just 1,200 meters and offers 10 ski runs served by 3 chairlifts. But with rising temperatures and a lack of snowfall in the winter months, the length of the ski season has become shorter and shorter over the years.

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Only Open 4 Weeks Last Season

During the 2022-2023 ski season, La Sambuy was only able to operate for 4 weeks due to lack of snowfall. This led to a significant financial loss for the resort, with an operating deficit of around 500,000 euros reported.

In order to continue running in future seasons, investments in renovations and new equipment would have been required. But with climate change shortening winters, the town council determined it was not financially viable to keep the resort open.

Shift Toward Summer Tourism

In recent years, La Sambuy has shifted its business model to rely more heavily on summer tourism than winter operations. Activities like mountain biking, paragliding, and a mountain coaster brought in 70% of annual revenue.

However, the lack of a profitable ski season still created an unsustainable financial situation. Other summer attractions like the mountain coaster and biking will also be closed with the shutdown of the resort.

Dismantling Ski Lifts

Workers have begun dismantling the ski lifts and slopes at La Sambuy. According to the town council's decision, all structures related to skiing are to be removed within 3 years.

Seeing ski lifts dismantled has become an increasingly common sight in the French Alps. The environmental group Mountain Wilderness estimates around 3,000 abandoned ski lifts rusting across France's mountain ranges.

The organization has taken down 70 lifts since 1963 from resorts forced to close by lack of snow. But often local officials do not have the funding or resources to remove outdated equipment from defunct resorts.

Climate Threatens the Ski Industry

La Sambuy is unlikely to be the last ski resort in Europe forced to close its doors because of warmer winters. A 2021 study by Nature Climate Change found that 91% of ski resorts in Europe are threatened by climate change.

Lower-elevation resorts, below 1,700 meters, are the most vulnerable. As of 2018, over 70% of ski areas in France were considered low to middle elevation, according to a report from the French Court of Audits.

Rising global temperatures are expected to shorten ski seasons, reduce snowfall, and make snow cover less reliable. This will make it harder for resorts to remain financially viable.

Alpine Ski Industry at Risk

Alpine Skiing
Photo by specialolympicsusa licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

While higher-elevation resorts may be more resilient, the fate of La Sambuy signals troubling times ahead for Europe's Alpine ski industry as a whole.

Small, local ski hills are often an entry point for new skiers and snowboarders, especially children and families.

Larger resorts must also grapple with the investment needed to install snowmaking infrastructure and other adaptations to maintain skiable terrain through warmer winters.

Broader Economic Impacts

The decline of ski resorts will impact not just the ski industry itself, but the wider mountain economies that rely on winter tourism. From restaurants to hotels to equipment rental shops, many local businesses depend on a robust ski season.

Workers and families who depend on income from ski resort jobs will also feel the consequences. Entire Alpine towns and villages centered around skiing could struggle economically.

As climate change reshapes mountain regions, adaptation will be crucial. Places like La Sambuy may need to reimagine their identities and shift toward activities like hiking, mountain biking or other forms of tourism to replace lost ski revenue.

Ominous Sign of Bigger Changes

While the shutdown of one small, 60-year-old resort may not significantly impact the massive global ski industry, it provides an ominous warning of the fundamental changes climate change may bring to other mountain communities.

La Sambuy's lost ski lifts are a visual reminder that the environment is rapidly transforming.

La Sambuy Ski Resort Key Information and Statistics

The La Sambuy ski resort was a small, family-oriented area located in the town of Faverges-Seythenex in the French Alps near Annecy. At an elevation of just 1,200 meters, the resort offered 10 ski runs served by 3 chairlifts, with a vertical drop of 2,297 feet. La Sambuy operated for 60 years between 1960 and its closure in 2022, owned by the town's municipal council.

The resort catered mostly to local families and visitors, with no major published skier visitor numbers. Ultimately, La Sambuy was forced to close permanently on September 10, 2022, due to shorter, warmer winters providing insufficient natural snowfall caused by climate change. The closure was announced by the municipal council on June 14, 2022.

Key Takeaways

  • La Sambuy ski resort in the French Alps is closing permanently after 60 years of operation due to climate change reducing snowfall.
  • The resort was only open for 4 weeks this past winter season because of warm weather and lack of snow.
  • With shorter winters, the ski resort's business model shifted toward summer tourism, but winter losses were still unsustainable.
  • All ski lifts and slopes will be dismantled within 3 years per the town council's decision.
  • Across the Alps, many small, low-elevation ski resorts are at risk of closing due to global warming.
  • The decline of ski resorts will have economic impacts on mountain communities that rely on winter tourism.
  • Adaptation measures, like more summer activities, will be needed for Alpine towns to survive the loss of ski revenue.