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Resorts prepare for a future without skis

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    Resorts prepare for a future without skis

    Resorts prepare for a future without skis
    By Gisela Williams

    Thursday, December 6, 2007
    The sun was glaring down on the Swiss Alps. Bronzed 30-somethings in designer sunglasses and tight T-shirts were draped over extra-large lounge chairs that lined the deck. Euro-pop music played from multiple speakers as fetching young waiters served expensive bottles of Champagne and cheese plates. It might have been August at a Nikki Beach Club — except for the splotches of snow, mountain vistas and overworked snow machines.
    It was my second day at the glamorous Arosa ski resort in eastern Switzerland, and I had yet to hit the slopes. Instead, I was jostling with Chanel-toting Europeans for sun chairs at Arosa's mountaintop restaurant, and floating in the glittering swimming pools of the Tschuggen Grand Hotel's futuristic new spa.
    Could this be the future of Alpine skiing? With glaciers melting and snow packs shrinking, ski resorts in the Alps are trying to stay ahead of global warming, not only by installing more snowmaking guns, but also by transforming their resorts with colossal spas, sleek architecture and other off-slope attractions.
    Big-name architects like Zaha Hadid are designing high-altitude ski features. Shopping centers are going up on mountain peaks. And venerable hotels like the Tschuggen Grand are becoming all-weather resorts, in its case by adding a $30 million, 43,000-square-foot spa designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta.
    While ski resorts throughout Europe are vulnerable to rising temperatures, Switzerland has been leading the way with several pioneering architectural non-ski attractions.
    In Davos, home of the World Economic Forum, everyone is talking about the spaceship-like InterContinental Resort designed by the eco-friendly architect Matteo Thun — an elliptical-shaped complex with 186 luxury hotel rooms, residential apartments, shops, conference rooms and, of course, a vast spa.
    The complex, which Thun calls "a new planet," is expected to open in 2010 and will be partly built from local materials.
    "A lot of people are telling us: You guys are doing fine because you're far above the critical height line where ski areas will have a problem," said Armin Egger, former director of Davos Tourism. "But we know if about 40 percent of skiing areas in the European Alps will be gone in 50, 100 years, then we will have a problem as well."
    That point was hammered home at a United Nations conference about climate change and tourism held in Davos two months ago. "If temperatures continue to rise, artificial snowmaking will become less and less efficient," said Shardul Agrawala, a conference speaker who recently edited a study, "Climate Change in the European Alps," for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group of 30 industrial nations.
    "Alpine resorts, especially at low altitudes, are developing other revenue opportunities that don't require snow," Agrawala added.
    For the Swiss ski village of Zermatt, that means more spas and conference tourism, even though the village is high enough to be safe from current warming conditions. The resort is constructing a 400-foot-high glass-and-steel pyramid on top of Little Matterhorn, the highest point in the Alps reachable by cable car. The pyramid is to be filled with restaurants, a conference center, swimming pools and an observation deck at an air-thinning 4,000 meters, or about 13,120 feet, above sea level.