Dear EarthTalk: Given the existential threat to their industry, what are ski resorts, gear makers and professional skiers and snowboarders doing to fight global warming?
– J. Simms, Rutland, VT
It’s undeniable that climate change has been affecting and continues to threaten the winter sports and tourism industries. Colder regions around the world are experiencing a steady decline in snowfall and snowy months. In the classic tale of Frosty the Snowman, Frosty promises to come back next winter when the cold returns. But as global average temperatures continue to climb, will Frosty keep coming back?
The SNOTEL network has kept detailed records of snow at high elevations since the 1960s. Based on their data, scientists have determined a 10-20 percent average loss in the annual maximum snow water equivalent (the amount of water stored in snow packs) during that time because of global warming. They have also recorded a one-to-two-week loss in days with snow cover in these regions since the 1970s.
“Warmer winter temperatures also affect the characteristics of accumulated snow on the ground, including snow depth, how long the snow stays on the ground, and snow ‘slushiness,’” reports the group Protecting Our Winters (POW) in a report produced in conjunction with gear retailer Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). Of course, more slushiness and less powder are not ideal for winter sports enthusiasts.
Whether it’s skiing, snowboarding or just rolling around in the snow, there are many of activities that rely on the cold. One study found that 20 million Americans participate in winter sports annually, generating $20.3 billion dollars in the winter sports tourism industry. This industry supports over 191,000 jobs.
So, what’s the industry doing to address these changes? The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has taken on global warming via its Climate Challenge program. promoting education around global climate change, creating more sustainable slopes, and furthering outdoor business climate partnerships.
Winter sports athletes have also been advocating for climate action. Before the 2014 Winter Olympics, 75 decorated Olympic skiing and snowboarding medalists wrote to President Obama calling for more ambitious action on climate change; they continue to advocate for climate action to this day. Additionally, “sustainability” was recently announced as one of the three pillars of Olympic Agenda 2020.
Last but not least, Protect Our Winters (POW) has been a huge player in pushing for climate action. “We find things in deep winter or at high altitude elevations that we don’t find anywhere else, that speak very directly to our connection to nature and to the human soul…” POW’ executive director, Mario Molina, tells Yale Climate Connections. POW rallies athletes, scientists, business leaders and others to advocate for policies that protect climate and has resources for advocacy, education, donating and volunteering.