YAMAGATA, Japan -- With snowfall at a fraction of its usual levels, this northern Japanese city may be forced to suspend an international women's ski jumping competition this month, Mayor Takahiro Sato told reporters Tuesday.
Yamagata is slated to hold events for the FIS Women's Ski Jumping World Cup on Jan. 17-19 at the Kuraray Zao Schanze facility. But only about 20 cm of snow has accumulated on the hill -- far less than the 1 meter or more typically seen at this time of year, and below the 60 cm needed for snow grooming machines to operate.
The FIS tour stop is slated to be the ninth World Cup competition held at the slope. Yamagata, which shoulders part of the cost, planned to make the competition part of its celebrations of the city's 130th anniversary.
No major snowfall is expected in the coming days. "We're considering all available options, including snow machines and shipping in snow," Sato said.
The impact of reduced snowfall -- a problem that looks certain to recur as winters grow warmer -- extends well beyond the World Cup in an area that counts on snow as a tourist draw.
The nearby Zao Onsen Ski Resort is allowing skiing only on high-elevation slopes. Poor conditions also could affect the famed "snow monsters" of Yamagata -- snow-covered trees with unusual shapes that attract crowds of sightseers, with the heart of the season usually running into February.
"Warming temperatures are a major factor," Sato said, adding that "we need to take steps to make sure tourists can enjoy [the area] even in warm winters."