The Alpine snow gods have relented to relief of ski resorts

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The Independent Online

Snow is general over Europe, to paraphrase James Joyce in The Dead, and with less than a week to go before Christmas, there is relief across Alpine ski resorts that there will be enough powder for the hordes of British and European visitors arriving for the season's opening.

The snow gods finally relented after one of the most nail-biting build-ups to the ski season, which has seen miserable snowfalls across Europe. Even the highest ski resorts in Europe have had the snow cannons out as they attempted to cover the bare rock with enough snow to attract visitors. At lower levels, ski resorts are in more trouble thanks to the effects of climate change, which is pushing the snow line progressively higher every season.

The latest UN report on climate change warned that within 50 years, more than 200 ski resorts may have to close because of lack of snow. Winter's late arrival has added to the anxiety this year.

St Anton in Austria, the most popular resort with British skiers, does not have good conditions, even though it has been extremely cold at -13C. So the resort has also had the snow cannons working through the nights to make large amounts of artificial snow.

As the warmer winter temperatures have meant less snow, snow-grooming equipment has become essential to the survival of most ski resorts. But snow-making's environmental toll is heavy, with the cannons and their power lines blighting the landscape, and with large amounts of water and electricity needed to keep the machines running.

James Cove, the BBC's man in the Alps, was in the snowless French resort of Tignes last week and said that when the first snow fell "to say the resort was delighted would be an understatement".

"This is always a very worrying time of year for ski resorts", said Fiona Sweetman, from the Ski Club of Great Britain. "If there is poor snow, then the multimillion-pound ski industry suffers badly." Marion Telsnig, of Crystal Holidays, the UK's largest tour operator, said: It's always nice when the first snow of the season arrives, but this year it's particularly welcome as the snow is definitely later than normal and the worries about climate change and global warming have increased our anxieties."

On top of that, families often book their Christmas ski holidays up to a year in advance in order to secure good discounts on flights and accommodation. They too take a high risk that the conditions will be adequate.

Austria probably has the best conditions in Europe, with more snow set to fall this weekend. The resorts of Obergurgl, Kaprun and Sölden have near-record amounts for this time of year. But continuing heavy snowfall in the Austrian Alps has raised the risk of avalanches and prompted urgent safety warnings.

Strong winds and snowfall of up to 120cm (47in) in sections of Styria, the mountainous province near the border with Slovenia, put the avalanche risk there at four on a five-point scale.