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Ski industry hot and bothered by climate change

Bob Berwyn

There may still be considerable debate as to how any human-caused global climate changes will play out in the long run, but the ski industry has decided to make the issue a centerpiece of this weekend’s Sustainable Slopes outreach day.The Keep Winter Cool slogan will be used to draw attention to the potential impacts of climate change. Skiers and snowboarders, after all, may have the most to lose.&quotWe see it as a long-term issue,&quot says Geraldine Link, public policy director for the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). &quotIf there’s something we can do to turn it around in the short term, that’s what we’re trying to do with this outreach campaign.”Link says this year’s focus on climate change is a natural outgrowth of the Sustainable Slopes charter, a voluntary document that outlines the industry’s commitment to a set of environmental values.&quotThe charter acknowledged the issue and pointed the way for resorts,&quot Link says, explaining that, since the charter was completed in 2000, the issue has become more high-profile. Last year’s EPA report on climate change when the Bush administration formally acknowledged potential human-caused impacts marked a turning point of sorts, she adds.The EPA report painted a gloomy picture for the Rocky Mountains, with one climate model predicting rapidly dwindling snowpacks, shorter winter seasons and more precipitation in the form of rain.Link says there’s no downside to taking steps to reduce the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. &quotIt means cleaner air and less reliance on foreign sources of oil,&quot she says. At a national level, the NSAA will lobby for legislation that could increase use of renewable energy sources such as wind power.The Keep Winter Cool campaign has helped spark a renewed interest in the Sustainable Slopes outreach day, Link says, explaining that the biggest events this weekend (Feb. 22-23) are planned for ski areas in New York and Oregon. But skiers and snowboarders will find useful information and have a chance to take action all around the country, she says.For one, there will be booths set up to enable guests to buy renewable energy from their local utility companies. Some resorts have already publicized their efforts in this area, touting lifts powered by wind-generated electricity. Link says taking that step as a consumer helps grow the demand for renewable energy.For those willing to put their money where their mouth is, some resorts will be introducing climate cards, enabling individuals to offset emissions from their cars by buying credits toward the production of renewable energy. This year will mark the introduction of that concept, with resorts conducting surveys, asking guests if they are willing to purchase such cards.&quotIt’s a do-able and easy step,&quot Link says. Other measures promoted by resorts include carpooling, using efficient cars and using mass transit. Link says skiers and snowboarders also shouldn’t be shy about contacting their elected representatives and letting them know that climate change is an issue they care about.SIDEBAR: Climate change also a factor in Australia, EuropeBy Bob BerwynWhile experts continue to argue about long-term impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, many recent reports show a growing consensus that mountain snows could become more scarce not a happy prospect for communities that rely on winter tourism.Australian scientists suggest that, within 30 years, there could be a dramatic decrease in the snow cover in their country. Ian Simmonds, a climate change researcher at Melbourne University, says the snowline in Australia could creep up by 500 meters during the next few decades, with significant impacts for the country’s $400 million (Australian) skiing industry.CSIRO research suggests that within just 30 years there could be a dramatic decrease in the amount of snow cover in Australia. That could mean only the rare dusting of snow on Mount Hotham, which is Australia’s second-highest skiing mountain, at 1,861 meters. Skiing takes place between 1,400 meters and the summit, so if the snowline climbs significantly, the implications are fairly obvious.And in Switzerland, scientists are also warning of climate change impacts. As reported on the Ski Area Management Web site, a Swiss climate study group (ProClim) has warned of &quotdire consequences&quot for the ski industry over the next 30 to 50 years.According to the latest climate projections, only those ski areas located above 1,600 to 2,000 meters will see enough snow for reliable operations by the year 2030.Swiss scientists and economists are studying resort economics to determine how tourism-dependent communities can best cope with the predicted changes. Some researchers have said that a shift in demographics means that visitors will likely be older and more interested in sightseeing than in lift-served downhill skiing. To counter the economic impacts of less snow, Swiss resorts could concentrate on year-round activities as snowfalls decrease.While the discussion is interesting, the most striking thing may be the tone. For the Swiss, it no longer seems to be a question of &quotif,&quot but &quotwhen&quot the climate changes. And rather than just stumbling headlong toward an uncertain future, it appears that authorities are at least attempting to envision some sort of meaningful alternatives for tourism-dependent mountain communities.


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