The snow cover duration in the Swiss Alps is getting shorter is the findings in a report out this week from the University of Neuchâtel, the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF and the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL.

The study found that the snow season at altitudes between 1100m and 2500m has shortened since the 1970s. A worrying trend for resorts and winter sports enthusiasts. And, although the study was confined to the Swiss Alps, the trend will be similar across the Alps as a whole.

The research also found that all areas were impacted by a shorter season with the spring melt starting much earlier the main cause of the issue. On average the season is finishing 25 days earlier today than in the 1970s.

However, it’s not just the early onset of spring. The first snowfall in the autumn is now 12 days later and the annual maximum snow depth is 25% less today.

It’s the most comprehensive study of the change in snowpack – previous data was only available for shorter periods of time or smaller areas of the Alps. It’s also the first piece of research that shows the impact at high altitude.

It’s clear from my own skiing at the beginning of the season in the last few years that low altitude resorts have struggled with snow cover. This research shows that even the high altitude resorts are not immune to the global rising temperatures. The picture above is Zermatt at around 2000m in mid December 2014.

First thoughts when reading about lack of snow cover tend to focus on the winter sports impact. But less snow means less melt in the spring and less water for the communities and farms in the valleys. And going back to resort impact – a solution used today is artificial snow making. But this requires water which is going to be in shorter supply.

You can read more about the research here

All images: the author.

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