Faced with climate change, what is the future of winter sports?

Skiing in the mountains is not always possible due to weather or budget. An overview of alternatives to classic winter sports.

Every year, skiers and snowboarders (and pros) worry: Will there be enough snow? With climate change, good snow is not guaranteed, especially early in the season. However, there are alternatives to continue enjoying these sports, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Closed ski slopes, enemies of eco-friendliness?

The idea of ​​completely artificial indoor ski slopes originated in the 1920s, but only since the 1990s have they been made with just “real” snow, without any additives made with snowballs. In order for this snow not to melt, the ground must be constantly kept at a temperature below 0°C. A way to enjoy real snow sensations – even to discover it in warm countries – but with huge energy and economic costs. The first indoor ski slope in Australia opened in 1987 and had to close in 2005 because it was too expensive. The only center of its kind in Amnéville, France, almost closed for the same reasons before being bought by the Dutch company SnowWorld.

At SnowWorld in Amnéville, the 620-meter-long piste has downhill levels even for experienced skiers and snowboarders.©SnowWorld Amnéville

These centers are perceived as environmental pollution, but this does not stop them from being popular. Today there are more than 110 tracks in the world, mostly in Western Europe, but also in China and even warmer countries like Egypt or the United Arab Emirates.

When confronted by their detractors, promoters of these centers make an environmental argument: it will make the thousands of people who drive or fly to the mountains, where snowballs are also used, less polluting. Not sure if that gives them a green recreation look…

Dry ski slopes: is plastic fantastic?

No matter the season, do you need a removable outdoor solution to enjoy the views without the need for air conditioning or snowballs? This is where dry ski slopes, also known as summer skiing, can come in handy. Since these types of slopes are still new, the materials are constantly being improved to achieve the closest friction level to real snow. This is usually plastic, sometimes combined with other materials such as aluminum depending on the company, placed in vertically arranged strings to simulate the feeling of sliding.

Skiing without snowballs, but with neon green plastic that slightly spoils the view.©Val d’Allos

Despite the qualities of this type of installation, they can still argue with local residents. At the end of last July, a dry ski slope was established at the ski resort of La Foux d’Allos in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. This long fluorescent green ribbon collides with the grass, which is already used as a ski slope in the winter, and it is not to the taste of some residents interviewed by France 3: “You should know that they are destroying a treasure. This is the biodiversity of grasslands [qui est menacée]plants, but also animals, insects », says geomorphologist Mireille Provencal, who lives not far from there. Her husband, François Provençal, adds: “Not to mention that plastic leaves microparticles when it slides over people, raising questions about their deposits in Verdon. » Statements refuted by the president of Val d’Allos Loisirs Développement: “The machines used at work are much lighter than snow plows used in winter. Although the plastic particles are very small. »

Endless tracks for treadmill enthusiasts

There is also a variant of dry ski slopes: endless slopes. Behind this dreamy name is actually a huge conveyor belt, several meters long and wide enough to ski with others and quietly slalom.

An idea that’s sure to interest beginners who want to quickly learn how to turn, or even cardio enthusiasts who want something other than the eternal treadmills and ellipticals. But more experienced skiers may be disappointed that it’s the same endless run and no kicks. However, it is possible to adjust the inclination to the level.

Simulators: more immersion, but less sliding

In this column, we love to talk about the possibilities of virtual reality. Therefore, it is important to know whether immersive technologies are compatible with the skiing experience. Not only is it possible to wear a virtual reality headset to feel like you’re going down the track, but there are simulators in various forms.

They usually put users on skis, but have different priorities in terms of sensation. Some include ventilation and vibration for a sense of speed but remain stable, while others, designed more as a physical activity, attach skis or a snowboard to rails so the user can slalom. This last type does not include virtual reality, but a large curved panoramic screen that allows athletes to practice while wearing a real helmet. Another advantage of these simulators is that they can share the experience of these sports with elderly or disabled people.

Therefore, there are several alternatives to winter sports in the mountains, everyone depends on choosing their favorite according to their priorities: touch real snow, enjoy the scenery or exercise as long as possible? As for virtual reality enthusiasts, they can imagine themselves as top-level skiers without the risk of injury or even catching a cold.

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