"There is a long list of threats facing the French winter sports market," said Eric Guilpart, marketing manager for the Compagnie des Alpes, which has been looking at future economic prospects for the resorts.
"Climate change, population ageing and the opening of markets are three of the most important factors," he said.
Over the past decade, resorts across Europe have expressed increasing concern about the early melting of the snow cover. The Swiss Association of Winter Sports Resorts says that in the past 20 years the length of the season in the Swiss mountains has been shortened by 12 days due to the increase in temperature.
In the French city of Grenoble, the Snow Research Centre said that a 1.8-degree increase in temperature in France would shorten the annual length of snow cover at above 1500 metres to 135 days from 170 (minus 20 percent) in the northern Alps, and to 90 days from 120 (minus 25 percent) in the southern Alps.
Innovate to survive
"Resorts are going to have to prepare for some radical changes in the 30 to 40 years to come," said Guilpart. "Though they may be unable to 'transport' villages higher up, they will have to be able to take clients to places where there is snow, by linking low-lying resorts to slopes higher up using mass carrier systems."
Resort managers, as well as manufacturers of skiing equipment, are having to adapt to the change such as by levelling slopes and planting grass there to enable skiers to practise the sport with a thin cover of only 20 centimetres of powder, instead of the current standard requirement of 70 centimetres to one metre of snow.
But ageing too is worrying the business.
As the population ages, the percentage of ski buffs is falling. In France for example 17 percent of 20-year-olds take part in winter sports against only one percent of 60-year-olds.
On the other hand, the fact that more and more people have learnt how to ski in recent years will somewhat offset ageing. In 1975, 4.8 percent of skiers were aged between 40 and 49, but a decade from now 14 percent of that same age group is expected to be on the slopes.
"In 2015 we expect that 20 percent of the skiers will be aged over 50", said Guilpart.
Meanwhile winter resorts in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland — which account for three-quarters of Europe's skiing — are continuing efforts to attract increasing numbers of visitors from countries without major resorts, such as Britain, the Benelux nations, Ukraine and the Baltic nations.
And as fast rail services are developed across the continent, some 35 to 40 million skiers, or more than one of every 10 Europeans, can now access the slopes in a matter of hours.
With increased leisure time and improved economic conditions in eastern and central Europe, winter sports moreover are becoming increasingly accessible to a wider number of people.
One positive factor, said Guilpart, was that skiing was "one of the rare economic sectors to remain free of new competition. Apart from China, there are no new resorts being set up in the world."
The US market has remained stable for more than 15 years while the Japanese market, which once accounted for a quarter of the global ski market, has crumbled due to the economic crisis in Asia.