U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association sets its sights on sustainability, because without snow it doesn’t exist

Ben Ramsey
The Park Record
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association headquarters in Park City, Utah.

Eric Webster, senior director of events at U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, said the relationship between climate and the Park City, Utah-based nonprofit is simple.

“Without snow, U.S. Ski and Snowboard doesn’t exist,” he said.

That’s why the USSA is pursuing an initiative to become more sustainable.

According to Webster, the USSA has been looking inward, finding where it can reduce its carbon emissions and consumption of products, and has been searching for partners to help it achieve its three main goals. A news release announcing the initiative last month defined those goals as: becoming a more sustainable business and promoting sustainability in its business partners, suppliers and competitions; educating those involved with USSA about climate change and the sustainability of the organization’s sports; and collaborating with resorts, other sports federations and environmental groups to promote sustainable practices throughout the snow sports industry.

“We kind of sat on the sidelines for a number of years, but with everything that’s going on … we felt it was important to use our image and athletes to promote (sustainability),” Webster said.

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Though the organization is still in the early stages of setting concrete goals, there are many options the nonprofit is looking at, including recycling programs, ways to offset the carbon footprint of competitions, carpooling for the roughly 400 people who work in Quinn’s Junction (where the USSA’s headquarters and training center are located) and athletes when they travel abroad, as well as reducing use of paper throughout the organization. Webster expects some of the initiative to affect the way USSA-sanctioned competitions are conducted, which would give the initiative nationwide impact.

Webster recognized that some observers may disagree with the notion of human-caused climate change, but he said it was not something the organization was wringing its hands over.

“I don’t think we can worry about them,” Webster said, adding that some negative feedback accompanies every change. “Snow sports, they rely on whether there’s cold weather or snow to be successful. Over the years we’ve seen events canceled or schedules change because of climate, and we as an organization needed to support a healthy environment.”

According to NASA, the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, with two-thirds of that warming occurring since 1975. Sixteen of the top 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000.

Precipitation has also increased. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, global precipitation has increased at an average rate of 0.08 inches per decade since 1901, while precipitation in the contiguous 48 states has increased at a rate of 0.17 inches per decade.

Pair that with warmer air’s ability to hold more water, and the result is warmer, wetter winters with the possibility of larger storms.

Webster said the USSA has seen the effects of climate change firsthand. Specifically, last year’s World Cup ski races in Beaver Creek were canceled because it was too warm to make snow. He said three years ago the USSA canceled another World Cup event in Tahoe in March, also because of unseasonably warm weather.

“It was just pouring rain at 9,000 feet at the end of February,” Webster said.

This season is following the new climate trend, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recording October as 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average temperature, and rainfall across the U.S. at 0.37 inches above average.

The 2017 U.S. average temperature is currently the third warmest to date, according to NOAA, while 2017 has been the second wettest on record.

Webster said USSA has entered into “vague” partnerships with the government of Park City and has “committed to working with” Recycle Utah and the Utah Green Business Alliance. But for now, the USSA has formed a 20-member committee selected from its employees to establish concrete goals for the next year. Odds are it will be warmer than usual.

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