ABOUT THE COVER
The End of Italian Winters?
by Domenic Cusmano, Publisher
The plush snow on the ground in the photograph of Cortina d’Ampezzo that graces the cover of this issue may well belie the truth about Italy’s future as a cold-climate country. No doubt, from a North American vantage point, Italy is more-often regarded as the land of sunshine: images of azure beaches, outdoor caffès, and picturesque mount-top villages are what make the country alluring for tourists. Seldom is Italy imagined in the company of such “snowbound” countries as Austria, Norway, Sweden and Canada.
Yet, Italy’s winter pedigree is well established. The country twice played host to the winter Olympics – in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956 and more recently in Torino in 2006. Its winter athletes are world renowned: Gustavo Thoeni, Alberto Tomba, Carolina Kostner, to name a few. Italy’s vulnerability as a first-tier winter nation perhaps lies in its lack of a world-class hockey team – the gold standard by which a country’s “winter” status is measured – not that it isn’t trying!
But an even greater challenge looms on the horizon, threatening Italy’s status (and that of its Alpine neighbours) among cold-climate countries: global warming. While in Canada the talk is of how global warming is bringing about milder winters, longer growing seasons, and opening up the North- west passage to navigation year-round, in Italy and in other Alpine countries the concern is that the milder winter temperatures are threatening the economic viability of winter resorts.
According to reports, the winter of 2006 was the warmest on record in the Alps – which resulted in a late start and early finish to the ski season. In previous winters when the weather was indeed cold enough, snow was scarce just the same – another possible effect of climate change.
The viability of ski resorts below 1500 metres is being questioned, resulting in owners marketing their resorts for “more than just skiing,” and particularly for hiking and clean mountain air. This may well be the fate of two of Italy’s most famous ski resorts – Bormio and Cortina – whose lower trails are below the threshold.
A shortened ski season at higher altitudes is better than no skiing at all! Indeed, some climatologists believe that the average temperature in the Alps will rise by as much as two degrees over the next 50 years, questioning whether there will be any snow in the Alps at all by the middle of this century.
Hockey and figure skating moved indoors in another era, the benefit of which was to make these sports accessible year-round. Of course, the same cannot be said for skiing, ski-jumping and bob- sledding. The options at our disposal are few, as our species envisages adapting to a snowless world.