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World's Highest Ski Area is melting fast
Date Posted: 16.36hrs on Thu 22 Feb 07

Times are hard for the world's highest ski resort, a dizzy 17,388 feet (5,300 meters) above sea level in the Bolivian Andes. Its glacier is melting so fast synthetic snow is seen as the only way to save it, and scientists say Chacaltaya's diminished piste could disappear altogether within five years due to climate change.

"This has been the worst year we've had. It's quite sad to see," said Samuel Mendoza of the Bolivian Andean Club. "We want to bring in artificial snow so we can keep on skiing, so the sport does not die in Bolivia."
In the shady spots around the stone ski lodge, little patches of white survive while icicles drip steadily from the rafters. In the distance below, metal roofs in the sprawling slum city of El Alto glimmer under the fierce Andean sun.
The rudimentary ski lift at Chacaltaya dates back almost to the club's foundation in 1939, and the closest thing to apres ski is a tea made with coca leaves -- hastily prescribed to anyone suffering altitude sickness.
Breathing, as well as skiing, is difficult here, but hardened Chacaltaya skiers say the thin air is a plus.

But not even Chacaltaya's lofty heights can save it from the ravages of climate change, though it is not clear whether its glacier is melting so fast because of global warming or its proximity to the growing cities of El Alto and La Paz, some 19 miles (30 km) away across the Andean plateau. The heat emitted by the cities' vehicles, industry and other human activity is reaching the glacier.

"There is no doubt this is the result of the actions of man," said Alfonso Velarde, director of the Institute of Physical Investigation at La Paz's San Andres University.
Velarde said Chacaltaya's glacier has shrunk by 80 percent in the last 15 years, and the experts measuring its decline say that at this rate it will be gone in four or five years.
"Chacaltaya's glacier is very small and the rocks around it heat up. For these reasons the decline is especially fast," said Dr Jaime Argollo of the university's Institute of Geological Investigation. "Some years it makes up a bit of ground, but the balance is always negative."

Argollo and his international team say similar patterns are being played out all along the Andes and that within 70 or 80 years there could be no glaciers left in the mountain chain that runs the length of South America.

He said the decline of Bolivia's glaciers could cause wider problems, as well as being skiing's death knell. "For the city of La Paz this is worrying because the glacial waters are the source of drinking water and of generating electricity."
Source: Reuters

How can anybody (except locals) ski at that altitude without feeling sick as a dog? Highest I've been is 3,500m and my head was thumping.
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