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French ski resorts worried over snow's no-show

Snow guns in action to remedy the lack of snow at the French ski resort of Val-d'Isere on December 13, 2014
Snow guns in action to remedy the lack of snow at the French ski resort of Val-d'Isere on December 13, 2014 Jean-Pierre Clatot / AFP

With just a few days to go until Christmas, France’s top ski resorts would normally be gearing up for the usual flurry of visitors that the holiday season brings. But a lack of snow amid unseasonably warm weather is causing alarm for the industry.

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France in recent weeks has seen temperatures well above average for this time of year, meaning slopes at many of the country’s most famous resorts are largely bereft of snow.

"Of course it is worrying, if temperatures could drop by five degrees (Celsius) that would be great," said Michel Giraudy, the president of French Mountains.

The association, which promotes mountain tourism, says only 40 of some 200 skiing stations are currently open across France.

"Snow cover remains feeble, autumn has been mild. Overall the start to the season has been rather late," said meteorologist Cecile Coleou.

Temperatures have even been too high for many ski resorts to use snow-making machines, which require an adequate level of natural snowfall to already be in place to be effective.

With tourists already beginning to cancel their Christmas ski trips, the situation is causing serious concern for France’s mountain regions, which rely heavily on the holiday season for revenue.

Shopkeepers in ski towns usually make a third of their annual takings over Christmas.

The lack of snow has also affected ski resorts throughout the northern Alps, including in Austria and Switzerland.

Further south, Italy has reported relatively good levels of snow at the start of the season. Snowfall has also been better in the French Pyrenees.

Stefan Strolz, mayor of the of the Alpine village of Warth in Vorarlberg, Austria, said that one more week's delay in the start to the season was "bearable" but that any longer would cause "serious economic pain".

In the western state of Tyrol, Austria's biggest skiing region, only around 30 out of 80 ski resorts were open, and those that were had only a few ski lifts in operation.

Verbier, one of the world's top ski resorts located in Switzerland, has only opened about half of its pistes and is still relying heavily on snow cannon.

Many ski resorts in the country are offering discounts on slope prices as a result.

Despite the dearth of snow in France, hopes remained high for a white Christmas.

Stations in the French Pyrenees "should all be able to open this week, at least at 50 percent capacity" said an upbeat Laurent Reynaud, director of France's professional ski operators' association.

"Sure, we are running a bit late but we hope it will snow for Christmas," he told AFP. "We are like snow farmers, we do what we can with what the sky gives us."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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