Why we’re nostalgic for snow-covered Alps

As white winters become less common, we are becoming ever more wistful for pastimes associated with them, like skiing.

This content was published on January 28, 2020 - 15:00

Do you agree with me?

In mid-January the authors of the Financial Times business and finance column, Lex, chose to highlight declining snow cover in the northern hemisphere, focusing on the Alps, and the financial losses faced by ski resorts in the coming decades. LexExternal link stated that the total number of days people skied in the Swiss Alps declined by nearly a quarter between 2009 and the 2017-18 season.

I would argue that for the Swiss who are skiing less often or have given up the sport entirely, warmer winters make them cherish even more their memories of slaloming down virgin-white slopes on seemingly endless crisp, cold and clear winter days. Why? I can’t say for certain, but the Swiss Alpine Museum is making a similar bet.

The winter of 1941/42 was a particularly hard one - or a good one for skiers, who could do their warm ups in town centres like here in Bern. Keystone / Str

The museum has been asking the public to contribute their old ski gear, photos, trophies and even x-rays of bones broken in skiing accidents for a new exhibition set to open next month. The show, “The Lost And Found of MemoriesExternal link", will include a selection of the objects turned over by the public. 

If you’d like to share your stories of what it was like to ski in Switzerland in the last century, let me know

Independent of the museum, Bath, UK resident and reader Fred Devey has been putting together his own collection to show the impact of warmer winters on alpine glaciers.

Travelling to Zermatt every year for the past 12 years, Fred told me how the loss in volume and length was unmistakable from one year to the next. He therefore started taking pictures of the Gorner Glacier from the same spot each June. He has started a group page on the photo-sharing site, FlickrExternal link, encouraging other photographers to upload images that show “glacial retreat that is visible on the landscape”. 

The Gorner glacier, in 2009
The Gorner glacier, in 2019

The lack of snowfall in Davos may or may not have been noted by government heads and the business elite who gathered last week for the WEF annual meeting, but climate change was top of the agenda. European leaders including Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga joined the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, Britain’s Prince Charles and – at the WEF event for a second year - Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg to call for urgent action. For details on what they said, and how Donald Trump responded, I recommend reading the excellent summary by my colleague, Susan Misicka.

Climate activists last week were also keeping an eye on developments in Lausanne, the host city of the 2020 Youth Olympic Games. Despite the sporting event’s charter committing the Games to sustainability, the organisers were, as our Geneva correspondent, Simon Bradley, writes, criticized for the use of snow cannons, a demonstration by the Patrouille Suisse aerobatics team and the transporting of snow to competition sites.

If snow cover continues to thin in the coming decades, transporting snow will either become very big business, or be no business at all.

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