Ski resorts face a significant snowpack loss over next two decades, forecasts global-warming study, with some facing no skiing and others may have to triple snowmaking
Boulder, Colo. — As the global climate warms in the next two decades, the snowpack on Colorado’s Aspen Mountain will retreat about 650 feet up the slope and ski season will be trimmed by almost a week, a new study says.
One way to fight that will be with snow guns, according to the study on the impact of and adaptation to climate change at two iconic ski resorts — Aspen and Park City, Utah.
Aspen, the study calculates, may have to triple its snowmaking in the coming decades.
“This is just a way for ski resorts to stave off or delay the inevitable, hoping the world gets its act together,” said Mark Williams, a study co-author and a geography professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
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Williams was presenting his findings this week at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
There have been broad studies on how a warming climate, because of rising carbon dioxide levels that trap heat in the atmosphere, will affect the ski industry and mountains.
The increase in carbon dioxide is attributed to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and razing forests.
The study by Williams and Brian Lazar, chief scientist at Boulder-based Stratus Consulting Inc., used climate data for the two resort mountains and six different computer climate models to look at the fate of the two mountains.
“In some ways the conversation about whether ski communities survive is a metaphor for the climate-change problem,” said Auden Schendler, sustainability director for the Aspen Skiing Co.
“Climate change is big. What happens on the mountain you can see,” Schendler said.
As the planet warms, Aspen Mountain’s additional 1,200 feet helps it fare better than Park City’s 10,000-foot peak, the study found.
In 2030, if carbon dioxide continues to build at current rates, Aspen could lose four to five days at the end of its season and Park City as many as 10 days.
“Many ski resorts are operating in negative cash flow until March,” Schendler said. “Shaving off days at the end of the season could cripple the ski industry.”
If the trend continues, by 2100 Aspen could lose up to 4 ½ weeks and Park City could have no snow at all.
To combat the dwindling snow the study recommends several strategies including:
• Developing, where possible, higher altitude and north face runs that will hold snow.
• Investing in gondolas and chairlifts that can quickly get skiers and snowboarders to the areas where there is snow.
• Obtaining additional water rights for snowmaking and more efficient water use resortwide.
Snowmaking is already a major tool in Europe where man-made snow accounts for 30 percent of the snow in French Alps and covers 70 percent of Italian ski terrain, according to the French Institute for Mountain Studies.
Last season 12 percent of the acreage at Rocky Mountain region ski resorts was covered by snowmaking, according to National Ski Areas Association.
For lower elevations, however, snowmaking isn’t the answer, said Krista Parry, a spokeswoman for Park City Resort.
“When you talk about a snow line at 9,800 feet and your highest elevation in 10,000 feet that isn’t going to work,” Parry said.