Scientists predict climate change to impact Utah ski industry

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Utah’s ski season is here but scientists predict that the “Greatest Snow on Earth” could disappear by century’s end.

A study produced by Park City Green predicts that Utah will no longer be a skiing destination for the whole world, as climate change will have caused the amount of total snowfall and snow coverage in Utah to decrease dramatically.

Given the importance of the Utah ski industry and the dependence of that industry on snow, climate change impacts to snowpack at Utah ski resorts can have a significant impact on the regional economy in the future, said the report.

According to Ski Utah, a marketing firm owned and operated by the 14 ski resorts located in Utah, skiing contributes $1.29 billion to Utah’s economy and creates 20,000 jobs for the state. Even those who do not ski or snowboard in the state benefit from the tourist attraction, with the ski industry reducing the tax burden on Utah households by $1,076 in 2012.

Last August, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-R.I.), an advocate for climate change on Capitol Hill, met with members of the Utah ski industry and discussed how they are preparing for a warmer climate. “Skiers and scientists will tell you the same thing: Utah is getting warmer, and it is getting drier. That means shorter winters and dramatic changes in the weather patterns that skiers in the West depend on for the unmatched snow conditions they enjoy,” Whitehouse said.

Not all BYU skiers and snowboarders agree with scientists prediction that Utah winters will come to an end.

This table documents the past 8 years of snowfall in inches, according to onthesnow.com. Scientists predict the "Greatest Snow on Earth" could disappear by the end of the century. (Chuck Dearden)
This table documents the past 8 years of snowfall in inches, according to onthesnow.com. Scientists predict the “Greatest Snow on Earth” could disappear by the end of the century. (Chuck Dearden)

“A lot of scientists try to predict snowfall year round. They’ll say this year we are going to get a lot of snow and we might or we might not. You never really know,” said Collin Francom, head of marketing for Freeride Academy, BYU’s club for skiers and snowboarders.

During the last winter Olympics hosted in Sochi two Olympic test events were canceled due to high temperatures and a lack of snowfall. This led climatologist Daniel Scott, professor of global change and tourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, to analyze potential venues for future Winter Games.

He concluded that of the 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics, as few as 10 might be cold enough by midcentury to host them again due to a rise in the average global temperature. By 2100, that number shrinks to 6.

Environmental advocate and writer Porter Fox, author of “DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow” cites research showing that the western U.S. will lose an estimated 25 to 100 percent of its snowpack and reduce the snowpack in Park City to zero if things continue the way they are.

A map depicting Utah resorts total yearly snowfall is found below. The map shows how the history of snowfall in Utah during the past six years has experienced ups and downs but overall total snowfall is decreasing.

“We are trying to get ahead of that ball and say the trends you are seeing are only going to get worse,” said Fox in a video released in 2014.

Community and ski industry leaders are already spearheading initiatives to address and solve climate change. This last August they met with members of Congress and discussed what could be done.

Al Hartmann
People ski at Solitude Mountain Resort, Monday Dec. 26, 2016, in Solitude, Utah. (Associated Press)

“These Utahns see the effects of climate change every winter and are doing impressive work to adapt to the changing conditions and reduce their industry’s carbon footprint,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “We need to continue to push leaders in Utah and Washington to follow their lead and act on climate.”

Along with getting involved politically, Utah locals can all help stop the end of winter by using park and ride transits found at the base of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons; employees can also use ride share programs provided by resorts, and each can take steps to reduce their own carbon footprint.

“Do what you can to protect the environment you use,” said Jonathan Bigelow, President of Freeride Academy. “Always leave it better than you found it.”

 

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