We all know that climate change poses an existential threat to the snow and alpine environments that we love. While Australia’s lower mountains and modest latitude make it something of a miracle that we even have snow, there is little doubt that already our seasons are getting shorter, with less snow (our snow pack has been in decline since 1957).
But it is disturbing to see the impacts that are happening elsewhere, in countries at higher latitudes and with higher peaks. This recent story sums up some of what’s happening in North America, and how some resorts are responding.
This article by Eric Niiler appeared in Wired. Some excerpts are below. Check here to read the full article.
Climate change has already made winters warmer and shorter, while a March study by researchers at Oregon State University found North America’s snowpack has declined up to 30 percent in the past century. By 2050, climate change will cut ski resort winter seasons by 50 percent, with the hardest-hit in the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, and Upper Midwest, according to a 2016 study by the University of Colorado, the Environmental Protection Agency, and consulting firm Abt Associates.
After years of inaction, the ski industry itself is starting to take climate change seriously. Resorts are deploying new snow-making technology to adapt to unpredictable conditions, reducing the energy skiers use to get up the slopes, and even trying to alter customers’ habits.
“Our snowpack has decreased, but I don’t think it’s going to disappear,” says Maura Olivos, sustainability coordinator at Utah’s Alta, which opened 80 years ago. In the future, Olivos says skiers might not be floating on as much fluffy pow. “There will be less powdery snow and more dense snow,” Olivos says. “Our skier expectations may have to change so they are not anticipating powder every time they come here. We are going to have to be appreciative of what we get.”
More extreme weather is also impacting on infrastructure: In California resorts, ‘high winds and snowstorms in the area knocked out power’.
How are resorts responding?
Resorts are investing in more efficient snow making technology, which uses less energy and water to produce the same amount of snow.
- Until recently, Alta resort (in Utah) and other western resorts didn’t have to rely on snowmaking. But that’s changed. The resort has doubled its capacity in the past decade, although it finishes snowmaking by January.
- The Snowbird resort (Utah) has also had to greatly increase investment in snow making infrastructure and uses it much more than they used to.
- In California’s Sierra Mountains, snowmaking has gone big-time, just as the region’s resorts have rebounded from a devastating five-year drought that ended in 2017. Squaw Valley spent $10 million on new snowmaking machines that adjust pressure and water volume several times a second, according to president and chief operating officer Andy Wirth. “We produce 40 percent more snow per gallon of water than we did five years ago,” says Wirth.
- Squaw Valley resort (California) is developing a ‘microgrid of wind and solar power, along with Tesla battery storage for 8 megawatts of backup power for the resort and nearby community. The resort expects to operate on 100 percent renewable power by December 2018’.
- In Utah, 54,000 tourists get a combination ski/bus pass each winter for the resorts near Salt Lake City, which allows them to catch buses to resort, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and parking and traffic dilemmas.
- The Salt Lake City region is also considering the idea of tolls for cars with fewer than three passengers on the canyon roads that serve the resorts near Salt Lake City. There are also more financial incentives for seasonal workers. Snowbird, for example, is offering employee carpoolers free reusable water pouches every five rides, a transferable half-price lift ticket for every 10 rides and chance to ski on a closed run with friends.