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Ski resort under fire for using helicopter to deliver snow

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People look at an helicopter carrying snow in order to place it on a ski slope in the Superbagneres station in French Pyrenees mountain, on February 15, 2020.
People look at an helicopter carrying snow in order to place it on a ski slope in the Superbagneres station in French Pyrenees mountain, on February 15, 2020.   -   Copyright  Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP
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A French ski resort has drawn criticism for using helicopters to deliver snow after exceptionally mild weather has all but dried up slopes.

The Luchon-Superbagneres resort in the Pyrennees used helicopters on Friday and Saturday to move about 50 tonnes of snow from higher mountains to the station.

The snow was dumped on a few of the station's 28 slopes, focusing primarily on areas dedicated to beginners and children, Hervé Pounau, director of the local department council, told the AFP news agency.

Only six of the station's slopes were open to skiers over the weekend.

The operation cost between €5,000 and €6,000, he added, arguing that "over the long term we will get at least 10 times' return on that investment" which would enable the resort to safeguard up to 80 jobs.

But the regional branch of the Europe-Ecologie Les Verts political party has railed against the move with Bastien Ho, the local party secretary, describing it as "a short-term aberration which fights against global warming by contributing to it".

Patrick Jimena, an ecologist councillor in Colomiers, near Toulouse, said he was "furious".

"Nothing can justify this nonsense," he wrote on Facebook, adding: "As we deal with global warming, some people empty their boat with a spoon despite a tsunami approaching".

REGARDEZ LA VIDÉO ILS DEVIENNENT FOUS ! Je suis #furieux de voir de telles pratiques décidées par une collectivité qui...

Publiée par Patrick Jimena sur Samedi 15 février 2020

Pounau recognised that it was not "very ecological" and that it had been "truly exceptional and we have no intention of doing it again".

In France — the second ski destination in the world after the US, the ski season generates €9 billion annually and 120,000 jobs.

Luchon-Superbagneres's drastic measure comes in the midst of the February-March school holidays, a crucial moment for French ski resorts with more than 30% of their revenues derived from that period.

But climate change is having an impact.

According to the French meteorological agency, although abundant snow showers were observed at the beginning of the winter season, "the month of January was very mild and above all very dry".

In the Pyrenees, this has translated into snow falling only at "high, or very high altitude" in particular on the western flank, where Luchon-Superbagneres is located.

France's Court of Audit released a report last year looking at the impact of climate change on ski resorts in the Alps. It noted that stations at low or middle altitude were most at risk and called for them to diversify themselves by offering services less reliant on snow.