Experts: Ski now, while you can
January 10, 2007
Aspen, CO Colorado
PARK CITY, Utah – Another winter storm headed to Utah could bring two feet of snow and frigid temperatures to the Wasatch mountains.
But don’t let that fool you.
Utah’s trademark Greatest Snow on Earth could be a memory by 2075, say a pair of Colorado climatologists, who warn that global warming could shrink the ski season to a mere two months a year.
It means that Utah’s dry, fluffy snow could turn into a hard, wet pack.
And that’s if Utah gets snow. Already the Rocky Mountains are seeing more rain than snow, especially at the start and finish of winter.
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Those scenarios were laid out in Utah’s premier ski town Tuesday by University of Colorado researcher Mark Williams and Brian Lazar, a senior associate with the environment and energy research firm Stratus Consulting Inc. of Boulder.
Stratus Consulting and the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research did a study of the best- and worst-case scenarios for Utah’s winter for the years 2030, 2075 and 2100.
Even the best-case scenarios are bad.
They show that average mountain temperatures will increase by 10 degrees by 2075, shortening winter and bringing variable snow conditions.
Skiing could be found only at the top of mountains if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at current rates.
And by 2100, Utah’s ski season could extend only from Christmas to Presidents Day.
“To be honest, if in 100 years we don’t have a ski resort, that’s the least of our problems,” said Brent Giles, director of operations at Park City Mountain Resort. “Global warming is big, and it’s scary.”
There is still a “window of opportunity for all of us to help save our snow,” said John Cumming, chief executive of Powdr Corp., parent company of Park City Mountain Resort.
But to some extent, the experts say the damage already has been done.
“One thing to keep in mind is, when we emit CO2 (carbon dioxide), it stays in the atmosphere for 50 years,” Williams said. “Regardless of what we do today, there’s a 50-year lag time. If there’s one message I want you guys to take home today, it’s that 50-year lag time. That has a huge effect on the ski conditions.”
The Rockies, however, are expected to handle the changes better than New England, where low-elevation ski areas are more vulnerable to dwindling snowpacks, a pattern already showing itself there.
In Colorado, the Aspen Skiing Co. and other experts have come to much the same conclusions delivered to Park City. By 2030, one study said, Aspen’s ski season could be “shorn” by one week. By the year 2100, ski season could be from four to nine-plus weeks shorter.
The Skico has filed a brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, initiated by 12 states and three environmental groups, that seeks to make the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
In addition, the Aspen Skiing Company’s advertising campaign for the 2006-07 season centers around the message that snow – and skiing – will disappear around 2100 if humans don’t take drastic action to slow global warming.
In the meantime, the storm headed to Utah starting Thursday will bring snow lingering through midday Friday, weather forecasters say. They expect six inches or more in mountain valleys and a foot or two in the mountains, with the possibility of even more in some areas.
That kind of storm could be a rarity a half-century from now, but “the good news is the more we control emissions, the more snow we’ll see,” Lazar said.
A 10-degree reduction in Park City’s average temperature would yield a climate similar to Salt Lake City’s, which could see its mountain water supply shrink by a third under the scenarios.
It doesn’t look good to Park City resident and skier Leah Corey, 14.
“I’m afraid that when I get older, I won’t be able to ski,” she said.