Make your ski plans now for winter 2100
December 29, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN When 12 states and three environmental groups argued a case about global warming before the U.S. Supreme Court in November, they needed a partner to demonstrate how climbing temperatures present an economic threat.The Aspen Skiing Co. was happy to oblige. Skico officials believe their company’s very existence is on the line because of global warming.So the Skico entered the Supreme Court case on the side of the states and green groups which are trying to make the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulate the release of carbon dioxide. The Bush administration argues that the EPA doesn’t have the authority to regulate gases that contribute to global warming.The Skico isn’t a full party to the suit, so it was relegated to a secondary role in the case. However, the brief it filed packs a punch for anyone concerned about the future of the ski industry.”I don’t think the ski resort has done anything more important than this,” said Auden Schendler, Skico’s director of environmental affairs.The brief compiled information from the best scientific studies available on the potential impacts of global warming on Aspen. It was filed for the Skico by attorney Edward Ramey of Denver.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.Warmer temperatures will not only reduce the length of the ski season, it will bump the snow line up to a higher elevation, the studies said. Currently, there are times in the early season when skiers and riders cannot go below the bottom of chairlift three on Aspen Mountain because of a lack of snow. That could become a standard, permanent condition if global warming continues unabated.”I think you’re going to have skiing, but you’re going to have skiing on the top,” said Schendler. “The best science we have says that Aspen’s climate is going to be like Colorado Springs’ in 50 years. That’s shocking.”The amount of precipitation in the Rocky Mountain states isn’t expected to be an issue. However, warmer temperatures will mean less precipitation will fall as snow over the course of the season. The snowpack will develop later and disappear earlier, and there will be periods during the winter where warm temperatures eat into the snowpack.For skeptics, the brief cites climate changes that Aspen has already experienced. Precipitation has dropped six percent in Aspen over the last 25 years. Snowfall is down 16 percent overall and down 17 percent above the elevation of 10,600 feet, studies have documented.The brief noted that former Skico President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell said the compression of the ski season could make the company unprofitable and that the loss of skiing as a tourist attraction could spell “economic disaster” for Colorado.A report by Colorado College suggested the industry might not be viable as soon as 2050 if global warming isn’t addressed and emissions of greenhouse gases continues to grow.Fifty years later, the scenario is even more bleak.”By 2100, the Aspen Global Change Institute concludes that ‘it seems doubtful that assured, high-quality, destination skiing can be maintained as Aspen’s winter raison d’être,’ with even summer resort prospects less than clear,” the brief said.Ramey wasn’t able to present the data to the Supreme Court justices since the Skico isn’t a full-blown party to the lawsuit. Nevertheless, the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the parties in the case, asked the Skico to prepare its brief to lend credibility to the idea that global warming presents economic threats. A decision in the case is expected in June.As dire as the changing climate is for the ski industry, Schendler said that’s the least of the worries for humankind.”I don’t think anybody understands the scale of this problem,” he said. “It’s almost embarrassing to talk to people about the skiing angle.”The company agreed to file a brief in support of the petitioners in the Supreme Court case, because drawing attention to global warming is its top priority. The Skico even devoted part of its print advertising campaign to the issue and it established a website to discussion the problem and some solutions. The address of that website is http://www.savesnow.com.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.