The society of artificial snow The rise of winter sports

The society of artificial snow: The rise of winter sports collides with climate change Relevo

Guillermo Villar

“The first event of the season, the Baqueira Beret Pro, has been canceled due to the snow conditions in the Baciver area.” The founder of the Freeride World Tour (FWT), an international freeride ski and snowboard competition, announced that the competition will not take place. There was no going back. It's not an isolated episode: Winter sports in Spain are having more and more problems with snow.

“When it snows, it snows too much instead of spreading it out over a longer period of time; when there is a hot period, the heat is worse.”, complains Miguel María Delgado. His ski school is called Pirineos Blancos and, like the others, he suffers from the fact that the snow is no longer as white as before. The FWT forecast for the week was “devastating” for this respondent. “Weather and snow conditions determine our decisions”they explained from the FWT.

These sentiments are confirmed by the Pyrenees Climate Change Observatory. “The increase in temperature” and especially “the increase in maximum temperatures” are the biggest problems, according to his project manager Juan Terrádez. He explains that “hot, humid air melts all the fallen snow in a matter of hours” and links these rapid contrasts to climate change. Between 1991 and 2020, Spain experienced several years of above-average temperatures.

“Snow in the Pyrenees will decrease significantly in the coming decades”

Juan Terrádez, project manager of the Pyrenees Climate Change Observatory.

“Snow in the Pyrenees will decrease significantly over the next few decades, according to the main models we work with at the OPCC,” says Terrádez. For example, snow accumulation in the Izas Channel next to Candanchú and Astún shows a negative trend. Terrádez explains the difficulty of running these simulations both in the past and in the future: “They are reconstructed data series with a lot of instrumental biases.”

There will be less and less snow in the Pyrenees

Not just in the Pyrenees

Another example is the Betic Mountains. Years in which less than 10% of the Sierra Nevada is covered in snow are becoming increasingly common, according to the Global Change Observatory. “I haven't put on chains to climb the Sierra Nevada for years, but when I was young it was very common,” recalls Isabel Barrios, founder of the Happy Ski children's school with her husband Nacho Álvarez. Before, “it was very common to wake up in the morning and see 20 to 30 centimeters.” [de nieve] at the front door,” Barrios remembers of his childhood in Pradollano.

“We didn’t wear capes before [tejido para no calarse por aguanieve]and now we have to have capes for all teachers in school,” says the teacher. It's still falling, but it's coming in the form of rain. “What is falling is not snow, rather it has taken away what little snow we had.”, Explain. It is the consequence of the temperatures that Terrádez perceives in the Pyrenees. “As a result, the thermal zero point is at ever higher altitudes, which means that precipitation now falls in the form of rain, especially in the lower mountain regions where it previously snowed.”

If the snow doesn't stay, we have to make it. According to Álvarez, Sierra Nevada is a station that is “very well prepared for the absence of precipitation and has a world-leading artificial snow system.” Explain that although snow days are not that common, “The station can function with a little artificial snow” and points out that “the new generation of artificial snow guns produces snow at temperatures above freezing,” an advance over the cold that these machines require to operate. Humidity and air pressure do the rest.

Thanks to this, Barrios explains that they can work: “At the beginning of the season this year, thanks to the artificial snow, Even though the mountain was brown, there were snow highways to ski on“. The same thing happens in the Pyrenees. “At low levels there are many ski resorts that have snow because they have introduced innovations. If not, they wouldn’t have him.”, comments Delgado. Another time, from “mid-late December through March, there were typically no snow problems.”

Less snow, but more skiers

According to the annual report of the employers' association ATUDEM In the 21/22 season the number of ski visitors was close to the maximum in the 17/18 season., over five and a half million. The 22/23 course was smaller in terms of quantity, but was the third course with the highest number of visitors. During this time, winter sports recorded the highest number of association members in the last ten years.

The influx of skiers is close to maximum

While Delgado points to the post-pandemic years to talk about the visitor boom, Álvarez refers to them and says there has been less snow since then. That's why Barrios doesn't just notice the change in the snow compared to his childhood: “There were a lot fewer fans because skiing wasn’t that popular”. For them, it's gone from families of skiers to a lot more people for shorter periods of time. “There are many day skiers who want to enjoy the experience of their day”Monitor social media trends.

“There are more people who want to do things, but you don’t have the medium in which to develop them.”Delgado thinks. Then he asks himself: “What are you going to say to them: 'Come on, let's do a snowshoe activity without snow and get you wet?'” If they don't accept your skiing alternatives, the ski instructor understands: “It's not just the activity , but on the accommodation, the food or the going out. In addition, if it is no longer as lively as it was a few years ago, the easiest thing to do is to cancel. Terrádez makes it clear from the observatory: For organizers and athletes: “This climate variability creates uncertainty.”.


“The skier is always looking for where the snow is,” says Delgado. Skiing isn't that different for him, but now it's harder for him to find the right place. At Happy Ski, Barrios and Álvarez will continue to pass on their knowledge of the sport to the little ones, but they assure that they will not experience the Sierra Nevada that they enjoyed.

Guillermo Villar

Guillermo Villar is a data and visualization journalist at Relevo with a passion for innovation. On the field, he's a hybrid profile: When he's not writing, he's creating a record, editing interactive content, or programming with code. All this to find social gaps, trend changes and historical milestones hidden in sports data. Guillermo comes from Talavera de la Reina, where he also took his first steps as a regional journalist at CMMedia. He already wore the “Datero” jersey, trained in the clubs LAB RTVE and EL PAÍS and later switched to “branded content” with data narratives, among other things. Her education is no longer just “literary” with degrees in journalism (exceptional distinction) and audiovisual communication, but also “scientific” through a master's degree in data journalism and later in the Netherlands through an official master's degree in data science & society. His recent successes before Relevo show this overlap: he worked on artificial intelligence projects against disinformation at the Polytechnic University of Madrid and is pursuing a doctorate in computer science on the topic. …