An unusually warm winter has resulted in a severe lack of snow in lower altitude French ski resorts, forcing owners to airlift snow by helicopter.

People pull a sled on the top of a bare ski slope
Bare slopes at the Superbagnères station, near Luchon, in French Pyrenees ©Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Officials at two ski resorts last week airlifted snow to ensure the lower slopes on their resorts were fit for skiers during the February school holidays after unusually warm weather left many slopes bare. The resort of Montclar in the Alps transported snow by helicopter in an operation that lasted three hours and required 400 litres of fuel. In the resort of Luchon-Superbagnères in the Pyrenees, the operation took two and a half hours, according to AFP, at a cost of between €5000 and €6000.

The move has drawn criticism from France's environment minister, Elisabeth Borne, who is meeting with ski owners on Thursday to discuss future action plans. "Snowing ski resorts by helicopter is not possible," Ms Borne tweeted on Sunday. She later told local media that "we can not have stations that are victims of climate change, that have no more snow and, at the same time, contribute to aggravating climate change."

A snow-covered ski slope in the Superbagneres station
A severe lack of snow in Luchon-Superbagnères ©Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

While Luchon-Superbagnères's resort manager acknowledged the operation was not “very eco-friendly", he explained to reporters that he had no choice. It's believed that between 50 and 80 jobs would have been lost if the resort had been forced to close early.

Read more: Visiting the French Alps in the time of climate change

It comes as the country's national weather service, Météo France, reports that last month France experienced its mildest January since 1900. Many resorts at lower altitude are already suffering the impact of fewer visitors. Le Mourtis in the Pyrenees has been forced to close mid-season for the second year in a row due to a lack of snow. While higher up in the Chamonix Valley in the French Alps, warmer temperatures are making the landscape more unpredictable. A new centre near the Mer de Glace was launched last year to help people understand the climate emergency and its impact on glaciers.

People look at an helicopter carrying snow in order to place it on a ski slope in the Superbagneres station
Helicopter delivery of snow for Luchon-Superbagnères ©Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

It's not just France that is affected. Further afield in Japan, an unusually warm winter with record low snowfall also forced many ski resorts to close, and in some cases, cannons were turned on to pump artificial powder into resorts like Daisen White Resort in Tottori. However, according to The Japan Times, January's higher-than-average temperatures melted even the fake snow on the slopes. 

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