Jen Rosser
Jen Rosser
Program Director

Climate Change and Ski Towns


I was listening to NPR last week, and I heard that if we continue emitting greenhouse gases at our current rate, one third of the creatures in the ocean will become extinct by the end of this century. That was a pretty dramatic visual for me, so then I started to think about the visuals in my own backyard that look like climate change: namely, very little snow in Truckee and erratic weather. I don’t like to admit it, but I believe that’s what’s going on. So I did a little research on climate change's impacts on ski towns.

According to Daniel Scott, a professor of global change and tourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario: “Only half of the 19 communities that have hosted Winter Olympics might be cold enough by midcentury to host them again. By 2100, that number shrinks to 6. The planet has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1800s, and as a result, snow is melting. In the last 47 years, a million square miles of spring snow cover has disappeared from the Northern Hemisphere. Europe has lost half of its Alpine glacial ice since the 1850s, and if climate change is not reined in, two-thirds of European ski resorts will be likely to close by 2100.”

JR Blog Imate ClimateChange SkiTowns 2014 02Extreme weather events, species extinction and a lack of reliable water (70 million people in the western U.S. rely on snowmelt for their fresh water supply) are obviously more important than whether ski resorts stay open, but ski communities face a distinct economic hardship which they must address. According to New York Times Op Ed The End of Snow: At Lake Tahoe, spring now arrives two and a half weeks earlier. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise — they grew 41 percent between 1990 and 2008 — then snowfall, winter and skiing will no longer exist as we know them by the end of the century. The effect on the ski industry has already been significant. Between 1999 and 2010, low snowfall years cost the industry $1 billion and up to 27,000 jobs. Artificial snow-making now helps to cover 88 percent of American ski resorts, and has become the stopgap measure to defend against the early effects of climate change. Snow-making requires a tremendous amount of electricity and water, though, so it’s unlikely that snow guns will be our savior. Ski areas like Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin seed clouds with silver iodide to make it snow, but that won’t help much when it gets warmer. When it does, whatever the clouds bring will fall as rain.

In order to not feel completely depressed I looked into what some ski towns are doing in response to climate change. Aspen passed a resolution to eliminate coal-fired power as an energy source by 2015. By spring of this year, Aspen will be purchasing 89% of its energy from renewable sources. Chamonix is working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 22% by 2020. Being a European town, Chamonix is increasing service on its train line to get people out of their cars. Whistler has opened a micro-hydro plant which has helped to offset its on-mountain electrical use by 15%. Jiminy Peak, a small ski resort in the Berkshires, built a wind turbine which powers much of the resort and the surrounding area by generating 4600 megawatts annually. Based on the actions of these and other ski resort towns, I am hopeful ski communities and non-ski communities alike with take action to reverse the trend of climate change. Economics is always a powerful driver for change. Whether it’s a reduction in agricultural products, or fish in the ocean, or snow for skiing, something needs to motivate us to take action sooner rather than later.


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Steven Frisch commented on Feb 26, 2014
It was timely that as Jen Rosser was penning her blog post the national sustainable business organization CERES was publishing a California Climate Declaration, found here, that includes signatures from almost every ski area in the Sierra. Congratulations to Alpine Meadows, Bear Valley, Boreal, Dodge Ridge, Granlibakken, Heavenly, Homewood, Kirkwood, Mammoth, Northstar, Royal Gorge, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Soda Springs, Squaw Valley and Sugar Bowl for standing up.
Steven Frisch commented on Feb 26, 2014
Gwen Clayton, my normal response is that for more than 3 centuries science has been looking at all of the forcing factors that people think could be naturally causing climate change, such as solar activity and cycles, vulcanism, ocean current activity and a variety of other factors. All of these phenomenon do have some effect, but the scientifically observed effects of those factors do not account for all or even most of the observed temperature rise. Science always has some uncertainty, but our data on these forcing factors is pretty good and getting better all the time. As our data gets better we see that increases in CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere and the known greenhouse gas effect can account for much of the increase. There is a clearly observed direct correlation between the doubling of CO2 in our atmosphere and temperature increase since the beginning of the industrial revolution. We do the best we can do with the data we have, we should always be working for better data--that is what science is--but we cannot fail to act on the best available data we have. Do we question the consensus on the viral cause of disease theory? In the vast majority of cases we cannot point to a specific viral cause, but we know viruses attack genes and change their DNA, and we can develop vaccines to minimize the incidents of occurrence. So we develop those vaccines because, although there is not 100% agreement, the cost of not doing so is too terrible to consider. The only difference in the case of climate change is that the terrible outcome is slower than it is with polio or HIV.
Amanda Wiebush commented on Feb 25, 2014
Here are the facts straight from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
Steven Frisch commented on Feb 26, 2014
Thanks for the opportunity to respond to the oft cited comment that global temperature has not risen in 15 years. That main flaw with that observation is that it is based largely on surface temperature measurements, which are only one small part of the total heat content of the planet. Heat content actually needs to take into account absorbed heat in the atmosphere, land, ice and oceans to get a full picture, and while 1998 to 2005 would appear to have slowed in warming, much of the heat of the sun was being absorbed in the oceans. I would encourage you to look at some of the sources cited here for more information.
Tricia York commented on Feb 26, 2014
No that, is quite the sobering statistic! Am I the only one who is profoundly alarmed by this???
Larry Lewis commented on Feb 25, 2014
Give me a break. The temp has not risen in 15 years. You guys are something else. Do your homework and study what has happened ofer the last two thousand years. Maybe you will learn something and will quit believing what you here from politicians. Remember they want to stay in power and people such as yourself let it happen.
Larry Lewis commented on Feb 27, 2014
I apologize for coming across a little strong. I get a little tired if people accepting information from one source and accepting it as fact with out verifying it . Whether planet warming is happening or not is not clearly defined. There is no clear consensus one way or another. I can provide just as information from renowned scientist showing we are in a possible planet cooling. They have the research to back it up. What bothers me is when send me one piece of research and says "here are the facts". Oh really. Was the question asked if her as to how this research was done. Was the information achieved from satellite or ground stations. If ground stations then where are these stations located. We have found that many of the rural stations have been removed and some that were rural at one time are now in cities. The satellite data shows that the temp. has risen at the most .1degree C over the last 15 years. As to co2. Tree rings have shown Co2 to have risen after the planet started to warm and decreased after the planet cooled. We have had warming and cooling many times through out history. So who's to say for sure this is caused by us if in fact the planet is warming. As for you Peter thank you for your highly educated comment indicating your brilliant knowledge of the subject.
Kirsten Marie commented on Feb 26, 2014
They can always come to chicago. Trust me its plenty cold
Marcelino Flores commented on Feb 26, 2014
A quitengo choriso en papas pasi quiere
Sierra FoodWineArt commented on Feb 26, 2014
Yes, saw that.
Gwen Clayton commented on Feb 26, 2014
How do you respond to people who say, "Yes, global warming/climate change IS happening, but it's a natural occurrence and human activity has no affect"?