The Future of Skiing

Originally written in 2017

As a skier, I live for powder days. Days when the snow is deep, my favorite bowls are open, face-shots are plentiful and I can slam double diamonds without having to worry about taking a core shot to the bottoms of my skis.

Those powder days, however, are becoming more and more infrequent. In my beautiful home state of Colorado, it’s January and I have yet to set my skis to snow, as the conditions have been so poor. Every morning I eagerly open my weather app and see more of the same. Unseasonable temperatures and no snow.

Climate change is often linked to hurricanes and wildfires and flooding, but we can’t overlook that as temperatures continue rising, the foundation of winter sports disappears: snow.

The ski and snowboard industry all over the world is feeling the effects of climate change. In the Alps, the ski and snowboard season has shortened by 38 days since 1960. The snowline (the line at which it becomes cold enough for snow to stick) is steadily increasing – some predictions have it as high as 10,000 ft by the end of this century. One study even suggests that average temperatures rising even a few more degrees may be the ruin of resorts all across the Alps.

Ski slopes across the world are marred by slashes of brown dirt showing, dotted with rocks. Opening days are being pushed later and later and when resorts do open, fewer and fewer acres of terrain are accessible. More t-shirt ski days and fewer of those beloved powder days.

We see the impact of climate change on our personal skiing experience, but what does it mean for the outdoor industry as a whole?

In 2017, a study was released showing what the effects of climate change will look like on the winter outdoor industry. Running multiple climate models, the study projected what end-of-the-century skiing would look like in a world where greenhouse gasses are left unchecked and global warming continues at it’s current rate through the 21st century. The study predicted that in the United States, 90% of ski areas would not be able to open before Christmas Day, which would put the majority of resorts out of business. This would translate to a $2 billion dollar hit in ticket sales alone, a huge loss for the outdoor industry that, as a whole, currently makes up $887 billion dollars of the United States’ revenue.

90% of ski areas would not be able to open before Christmas Day, which would put the majority of resorts out of business.

So, what does this mean for the fate of skiing and winter sports in general?

The previously mentioned study ran a second model in which carbon emissions peak by 2040 and then begin to decline, the standard adopted by the International Panel on Climate Change. In this world, we have taken a global and aggressive stance on fighting global warming. The model still predicts a shorter ski season, but the outdoor industry is not so severely impacted as in the first model. The industry would likely be able to adapt and ticket sales would actually increase from where they are today.

The damage to our winters has already been irreversibly done. No matter what approach our world takes to climate change, our skiing and snowboarding days will change. Our seasons will be shorter and our powder days will become ever more unicorn-like. This change is not a distant change either. We will see significant effects of global warming on skiing by 2040, just over thirty years from now. I don’t know about you, but I plan to be shredding in 30 years.

However, we still have a shot at saving the sport we hold so dear.

The outdoor industry, which is so intimately affected, is taking a stand for climate change across the United States. CEOs of many large outdoor brands met in May of 2017 to discuss taking meaningful action on climate change. The outdoor industry has a powerful voice, it’s revenue will soon be counted in the US GDP. 2017 showed that the United States’ outdoor industry is willing to stand up for the environment after the Trump Administration shrunk Bear’s Ears and Grand Escalante National Monuments. With aggressive policy changes across the world, there is hope for skiing to continue.

You may be just one person, but you can still help the fate of our winters by minimizing your impact. Here are some ideas:

  • Carpool in a personal car that gets higher gas mileage or take a bus or shuttle to and from the resort on ski days.

  • Calculate your personal carbon footprint here and consider donating to a carbon offset project.

  • Check out Protect Our Winters, a non-profit who focuses on policy change to fight climate change and see what you can do to help the cause.