Shorter, wetter winters lie ahead |

Shorter, wetter winters lie ahead

Scott Condon

The problems the ski industry has contended with the last 50-some years are nothing compared to what many scientists foresee over the next 50.

While a sluggish national economy and fickle vacation plans of customers are today’s problems, shorter winters with warmer temperatures and reduced snowpacks cloud the future.

If global warming grows at its current pace, then skiers and snowboard riders can expect to see shorter winters and a greater probability of rain when the white stuff should be falling, says Daniel Lashof, science director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Climate Center.

Lashof said no one can accurately predict how global warming will change the climate of specific geographic areas such as the Eagle and Roaring Fork valleys. However, computer models and research indicate snowpack in alpine areas of the Northern Hemisphere will fall by up to 50 percent if current conditions persist.

Lashof, who is based in Washington, D.C., will discuss the possible consequences of global warming tonight at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Lashof’s scenario is bleak for ski areas: skiers and riders will be waiting longer to hit the slopes because warmer temperatures will last later into the fall, preventing it from snowing, he says.

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The ski season will end sooner because snowmelt will begin earlier and will occur more rapidly, Lashof says.

Research indicates that peak runoff will be 30 to 40 days earlier in the year. Many major rivers are already experiencing peak runoff five to 10 days earlier than they were 50 years ago.

Lashof says global warming doesn’t necessarily mean it will snow less. Aspen ski areas, for example, receive about 300 inches of snow annually. They may still receive that much snowfall, Lashof says, but warmer temperatures throughout the winter will chew up the snowpack sooner.

How quickly the climate changes will strike is being debated. It depends on, in large part, he said, how mankind reacts.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sanctioned by the Bush administration, “projects” that average annual temperatures will rise between 2.2 and 10 degrees by the year 2100. Even at the low end, that will mark a greater increase than has occurred in the last 10,000 years.

The burning of fossil fuels by vehicles and to heat homes and businesses and to power factories generates 80 percent of the global carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site on climate change. Carbon dioxide emissions create greenhouse gases which capture the earth’s heat. About one-fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases come from the United States, according to the EPA.

An oddity of the climate-change projections is that Colorado will receive more precipitation, not less, due to global warming. The EPA Web site said research indicates temperatures in Colorado could climb 3 to 4 degrees in spring and fall; 5 to 6 degrees in summer and winter.

Precipitation could increase by 10 percent in spring and fall and by up to 70 percent during winters. But, like Lashof, the EPA says more winter precipitation will come as rain.

The Natural Resources Defense Council hopes to enlist skiers and riders, who tend to lean toward environmentalism, in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases, Lashof says. It has teamed with the National Ski Areas Association to try to educate ski area customers about global warming.

The reason I’m coming to Aspen is to launch this “Keep Winter Cool’ campaign,” says Lashof.

The program, which many ski areas participate in, promotes alternative energy use, such as wind power, and energy efficiency; promotes fuel-efficient vehicles; and lobbies for passage of the Climate Stewardship Act, which was defeated in the U.S. Senate last year but will be reintroduced. The bill would require the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas production.

Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs for the Aspen Skiing Co., says the company supports the program. Schendler said he is frustrated that the country is still debating global warming rather than taking steps to reduce it. He says scientific evidence supporting global warming is overwhelming despite some claims to the contrary.

“It’s as if we’re debating if the earth is round or flat,” said Schendler.

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