Tignes is the latest summer glacier ski area to close after record spring and summer heat continues to impact the Alps.

Of the four glacier ski areas in the Alps still open for snow sports in July, most have only part of their usual terrain open.

The snow cover was already reported to be around 70% below usual at the end of winter and at record low levels after low snowfall totals were reported across the Alps. This was followed by unprecedented temperatures of +10C at 4,000m for prolonged periods in May rapidly thawing what snow cover there is.

The impact on glacial ice integrity goes far beyond losing summer ski and boarding of course, with the catastrophic collapse of part of the Marmolada Glacier last weekend, itself a former summer ski centre, now closed as well to climbers and hikers after the fatalities the collapse caused, the latest example.

The situation is concerning glaciologists, among many others. One, Andrea Fischer from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, told the country’s media it is a “historically unprecedented situation” at this time of year. She expects a significant loss of area this year, precisely because the glaciers have thinned out so much in recent years. “At the end of the summer, the glaciers will very likely look very different than before.” However, she noted this is just an acceleration of what is happening already due to climate change.

The widely reported issue of Saharan dust turning the snow orange-brown in winter is being blamed for further exacerbating the problem, absorbing more heat and speeding the thaw.

(Tignes in better days)

Tignes had formerly been open for 365 days of snow sports annually, then sought to open for at least a few days each month of the year with summer skiing from mid-June to early-September. It had cut its summer ski season back to six weeks this year but in the event gave up in a little over a week.

It joined its neighbour Val d’Isere which decided not to open for summer skiing at all this year leaving only Les 2 Alpes open in France, but with only about half of its summer ski slopes open.

In Austria the Kitzsteinhorn glacier closed a little earlier than expected and the Molltal glacier hasn’t opened at all leaving only Hintertux open.

The two other glaciers currently open are Zermatt/Cervinia and Passo Stelvio.  The total of four open in the Alps is believed to be the lowest in over 50 years in July.

Germany’s Zugspitze glacier, another former summer ski area, had lost all its snow cover by the end of June for the first time since 1960, when the loss wasn’t so extreme.

Swiss glaciologists have estimated the thaw in mid-June was running at a rate of 300 million tons of ice per week from the country’s glaciers alone, with the rate expected to accelerate in July and August. To give context they said the thaw would fill an Olympic swimming pool every five seconds.

Solden, another former year-round ski area which these days usually opens for the season in September and stages World Cup season openers on its glacier in October, has covered its ski area in reflective matting to try to slow the thaw.  It’s a practice developed over the past 20 years by glaciers across the Alps.