Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Is the ski season changing?

Is global warming affecting the ski season? Evidence suggests that, so far at least, it has made little or no impact.
Last winter's miserable start in Europe prompted a predictable spate of unsubstantiated impressions and domesday predictions. The snow was arriving later than it used to. This was the beginning of the end for low resorts.

This was an opportune time to take a close look at the Ski Club's historical data in an effort to discover whether there were any clear indications that climate change was reducing snow cover. My conclusion was that unless last season's early drought represented some kind of tipping point, it was an isolated blip.

I looked average snow depths since 1993-4 at three stages of the season - the third weeks of December, January and March. The analysis covered a representative selection of over two dozen European and North American resorts. T

If there were any truth in the perception that the season was starting later, then logic dictates that early snow depth on the lower slopes would have fallen. But taking those slopes in isolation only a handful of resorts reported a reduction of more than one centimetre for the past four seasons, compared with average for the whole 14 year period. And remember that last December in many resorts was an unmitigated disaster.

To see whether there had been any overall, progressive reduction of snow cover I looked at the averages for three periods. The periods were 1993/4 – 1997/8, 1998/9 – 2002/3 and 2003/4 – 2006/7.

In the December week only five resorts had reported consecutive reductions for the three periods on both upper and lower slopes. They were mostly in the French Tarentaise and included Val d'Isere, Les Arcs and Meribel. Even so, one cannot conclude that those resorts are the first victims of climate change. They suffered starts just as dismal as last winter's in the 1993/4 – 1997/8 and 1998/9 – 2002/3 periods – and just one heavy early snowfall in the past four seasons would have improved the average for those winter's dramatically.

Two – Mayrhofen and Zell am See - showed a progressive increase, while Bormio, Selva Val Gardena, Zermatt, Avoriaz and Aspen all reported better average cover over the past four seasons than in the five Decembers starting in 1993/4.

A comparison of figures for the January week produced a similarly unclear picture, with no obvious general decline in snow cover and only in a handful of resorts were average depths significantly lower in the third week of March.

Confused? To see how inconclusive the evidence is, look at the following figures * for Kitzbuhel, Sauze d'Oulx, Val d'Isere and St. Moritz.


Third week December
Third week January
Third week March
Average depth upper/lower slopes in the past 14 seasons



1993/4 – 1997/8
1998/9 – 2002/3
2003/4 – 2006/7

Sauze d'Oulx:

Average depth upper/lower slopes in the past 14 seasons

1993/4 – 1997/8
1998/9 – 2002/3
2003/4 – 2006/7

Val d'Isere

Average depth upper/lower slopes in the past 14 seasons



1993/4 – 1997/8
1998/9 – 2002/3
2003/4 – 2006/7

St. Moritz

Average depth upper/lower slopes in the past 14 seasons



1993/4 – 1997/8
1998/9 – 2002/3
2003/4 – 2006/7

Finally, two observations: first, even those cynics who harbour suspicions about the veracity of snow reports could hardly accuse resorts of doctoring trends.

And second: none of this is intended to deny overwhelming evidence of global warming or to suggests that it will not start to show up in future analyses. It is just to demonstrate the absurdity of many knee jerk reactions to last season's poor early conditions. Skiers deserve a more thoughtful approach.

*Depths are in centimetres and have been rounded up or down to avoid percentage points

This article appeared recently in Ski & Board magazine

Monday, 8 October 2007


The word "just" - invariably used when advertising prices - was devalued long ago. But today I spotted a gem on BMI's web site. Entering January dates for a round trip in premium economy cabin to Chicago I was offered a fare of £648.20. Upgrade to business flexible, it suggested, for "just" £4803. Might as well then.

Thursday, 4 October 2007


While the UK's principal airport operator BAA is scarcely deserving of sympathy over its response to last year's sudden security panic, it has become the target for much misplaced critcism.

Today's Guardian, for example, carries a leader claiming that security queues have "often" stretched out of the terminal almost as far as the car park. Anyone who uses BAA's airports regularly will recognise that as gross exagerration. Far from being a frequent occurrence it has happened rarely.

The same editorial suggests BAA profits from such delays because travellers spend more in airport shops. Leaving aside the inconvenient fact that tax and duty free shops are beyond the security checks in question, how do you go shopping while waiting in a security queue? And while it is true that tighter security necessitates earlier check in, that requirement is hardly exclusive to BAA or even UK airports.

The currrent barrage directed at the company has been prompted mainly by Heathrow, an airport laid out for an earlier era, whose successive managements have struggled to keep pace with demand. The fact that it is Spanish owned makes not one iota of difference to the quality of service. Much the same criticisms were hurled at its UK owners.

Sometimes those critics, concerned that airports are nationally important - and the first encounter many visitors have when they come here - seem to teeter on the brink of pushing for renationalisation. Yet if that were to become a realistic proposition they would surely throw up their hands in horror. Heaven forbid, you can almost hear them cry. That being their likely reaction, surely they should accept the realities of private ownership.

One of those realities is that splitting up BAA's near monopoly in London might bring a sprinkling of cosmetic enhancements but would not produce major improvements. True competition is possible only when there is adequate capacity - and capacity is currently inadequate. The prospect of such competition is made more distant by the fact that the dominant carrier, BA, will always need to concentrate most of its services at one airport. And unless someone resurrects the idea of an all new airport, off shore in the Thames Estuary maybe, that airport will always be Heathrow.