Vail Daily column: The world is changing
I have been traveling to Alaska since 1990. Originally to compete as a competitor in the World Extreme Skiing Championships and Alaskan Championships for 10 years, and then eventually to work as a guide. The evolution I have witnessed in this niche of our sport is one thing. The change I have observed of the environment is another. The relationship of the two has really kind of become mind-boggling.
As I have flown into Alaska during the past two years the change has been significant. It was one thing watching the glacier recede by miles over the years. But now the snow line has moved up to a point that is literally affecting our skiing terrain. It’s not that is a lack of moisture coming out of the sky. It is that it is coming out in a different form. Rain up to 5,000 feet on one occasion this season. Our base camp, which sits at 0 elevation, used to get snow. The tiny town ski area that houses the oldest chairlift in North America at an elevation of 400 feet has not been able to open in two years.
The nice side of this is that a town that used to be frozen in snow and ice through the winter now you can ride your bike or go for hikes on the surrounding trails all winter as the snow line now starts at 2,000 feet. And because of this significant change in the pattern, the snow that does fall above 2,000 feet like the rain below that elevation is plentiful. But … it’s getting even warmer.
Flying into our helicopter skiing terrain I noticed massive landslides. Not massive avalanches, but landslides, and it’s winter. This means that the deep ice in the ground holding these mountains together since the ice age when most of them were buried is becoming loose. Flights into the Chugach Range exposed massive erosion. I’m talking entire sides of mountains coming down large enough to destroy and city if one happened to be there.
I’m merely trying to give you the idea of the scale of this environment. It’s mind-boggling the size and depth of the movement of earth.
There is more moisture than ever in the atmosphere — it has made the weather patterns more turbulent. The amount of rain that fell at the base camp this year, if in the form of snow, would have been 40 feet. But, instead, the grass remained visible. My first years guiding at this operation I could ski out to the river on the valley floor if I needed to for an emergency helicopter pick-up. Now I would have to walk through a thick rain forest for miles if this became the only option.
So what is changing? And is this a microburst of change or is this the new normal? In Anchorage, the Iditarod used to start in the city. It has not been able to for years. This year, no snow fell in the northern town of Anchorage. Just rain.
Can we do anything about it? Or do we simply adapt? Is this a short cycle or a large one?
I do not know any of those answers. What I do know is what I have witnessed in 26 years of traveling north to ski. The idea that nothing has changed is crazy. I do not sit on either side of the political fence. I’m a skier — a witness to the change.
Longtime Vail resident Chris Anthony is a former Alaskan extreme-skiing champion and veteran of nine World Extreme Skiing Championships and many Warren Miller films. He is currently recruiting skiers for upcoming ski trips to Chile, Italy and Alaska. Learn more about Anthony and his adventures at chrisanthony.com or @chrisanthonyski.
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