By Regis Duvignau and Antony Paone
LE MOURTIS, France (Reuters) - This year's winter in France has, so far, been the mildest in more than a century, and that has had a direct impact on the ski resort of Le Mourtis, in the Pyrenees mountains.
"There's no snow," said French holidaymaker Frederic Foltran, setting off for the piste this week not with his skis but with a two-wheeled scooter designed for whizzing down grassy pastures.
The lack of snow has forced the resort to temporarily close down its ski runs in mid-season, local restaurateurs and hoteliers are counting the cost of fewer visitors, and those people that do come make do with other pursuits, like hiking.
The daytime temperature on Monday was above 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). Several hikers removed their jackets and tied them round their waist as they picked their way across pastures dappled with patches of snow.
But it is more than just a bad year. With scientists predicting a long-term rise in global temperatures, people who earn a livelihood from wintersports in Mourtis are having to contemplate a future with much less snow.
"Skiing? No one today can guarantee it," said François Gillaizeau, manager of the Tuc de l’Etang, a hotel and restaurant with a shop that rents out leisure gear. "If the snow is not there, we have to sell something else."
The downhill scooters, for rent in Gillaizeau's shop, are a glimpse of the future. They come with skids for gliding on snow, but if the snow fails to come, they can be fitted with bicycle wheels instead.
Meanwhile, the rows of rental ski boots, skis and poles in Gillaizeau's shop are untouched. He said he has had to reduce the hours of some staff, and expected revenue across his businesses this season to be down between 10% and 15%.
The last time France experienced a December and January as mild as this year was in 1900, according to Christelle Robert, a forecaster with Meteo-France, the national meteorological service.
Weather has always fluctuated from year to year, but Robert said a clear pattern was emerging - of mild winters and less snow - that was in line with global warming.
If the trend continues, ski resorts around 1,600 meters above sea level will be so warm they cannot even spray artificial snow on their pistes. It will melt.
Some Pyrenees resorts are higher, had a decent snow covering this week, and were open for business. The Mourtis resort sits at 1,350 meters, putting it in the melt zone.
"It's the second year in a row that we've had no snow," said Laurent Morel, a vacationer from the city of Toulouse who was taking a walk on the mountainside with his family. "We love the mountains so we come anyway."
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alison Williams)