Climate change is shrinking Colorado’s ski season |

Climate change is shrinking Colorado’s ski season

Colorado ski areas haven’t been able to open much terrain so far this year because of warm temps, poor snowmaking conditions

John Meyer
Denver Post
Snow cats groom the Little Nell ski run as snow blows from the snowmakers in preparation for opening day on Aspen Mountain on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

DENVER — It’s likely an understatement to observe that Colorado has experienced an inauspicious start to the ski season this year. Snowmaking operations have been hampered by mild temperatures, four resorts postponed their scheduled openings, and of the 13 ski areas that are open, just under 7% of their cumulative skiable terrain was available for skiing on Friday, Nov. 26.

When Steamboat Resort officials announced they were delaying opening from Nov. 20 to this Saturday, Nov. 27, they said temperatures had only allowed for eight hours of snowmaking this fall as compared to the normal amount of 200 hours by mid-November. Auden Schendler, senior vice president of sustainability at Aspen Snowmass, said Aspen and Snowmass were able to blow only about 10% of the snow they normally would make going into Thanksgiving week.

To folks who study climate change, this comes as no surprise.

“The situation for snowmaking couldn’t be worse in that warming is happening at a faster rate at higher elevations in the U.S. west, and at night, and this is when you make snow typically,” said Porter Fox, who has written two books about climate change including “The Last Winter,” which was published this month. “It dips down at night and you crank up the snowmakers. At elevation, at night, the rate of winter warming in the U.S. west has tripled since the 1970s.”

It must be said that while weather and climate are related, they are not the same thing. Next fall very well could be colder and wetter than normal. But according to climate data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average temperatures in the contiguous 48 U.S. states last month were 2.9 degrees above the 20th-century average, ranking it as the sixth-warmest October in 127 years.

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