New study: Warming a challenge for Aspen, other ski resorts |

New study: Warming a challenge for Aspen, other ski resorts

Bill Scanlon
Rocky Mountain News
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

Colorado’s ski areas will have to carve runs higher up the mountains and triple their snowmaking if they are to co-exist with global warming over the coming decades, a new study that looked at Aspen and Park City says.

That extra snowmaking will require a lot more water at a time when it is very expensive to buy senior water rights, says the study, being presented Monday to the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. And it would have to come from a distance away, because any diversion close by would harm wildlife habitats.

Gondolas will have to be revamped ” to take skiers from skimpy snow at the bottom of the mountain high up to where there is a permanent snowpack.

Aspen Mountain’s snowpack line ” the elevation at which winter-season snowpack can be assured ” will be 2,400 vertical feet higher up by the end of the century.

“Ski resort operators are really scrambling,” co-author Mark Williams, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, said. “The bottom line is that in order to survive, these ski areas will need to find the necessary water wherever they can and hold it in storage to satisfy future snowmaking needs.”

One sliver of good news is that Aspen Mountain looks like it will fare quite a bit better than Park City, Utah, which could have no snowpack at all at its base by the end of the century.

Williams and co-author Brian Lazar of Boulder took detailed looks at Aspen Mountain and Park City, but said their findings on Aspen would apply to most ski areas in Colorado, as well.

The length of the ski seasons will be squeezed on the fall and spring shoulders, because of delayed snowpack and early melting seasons, the paper said.

More winter precipitation will come in the form of rain.

The problem of needing so much extra water for snowmaking is complicated, but potentially solvable, said Williams and Lazar, who is with Stratus Consulting Inc. of Boulder.

Colorado ski resorts should take a lesson from the Alps, where some resorts have built pumping stations from high-elevation lakes to reuse the water.

They are moving water from basin to basin over long distances and storing it at high elevations to meet future snowmaking needs.

Ski areas in the Rockies could generate their own hydropower by pumping water into and out of narrow, deep artificial lakes and small dams. Both would be be lined with plastic to cut down on evaporation during summers.

“It would be a win-win situation,” Williams said. “The ski areas could recover some of their costs incurred from purchasing expensive water rights,” as well as provide their own hydropower to help run the resorts.

The authors painted a future scenario for the two ski areas ” for the years 2030, 2075 and 2100. And they looked at three projections ” optimistic, in which there is an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions worldwide; mid-line, in which the reduction comes a little slower; and business-as-usual, in which there is no reduction in total emissions.

Unhappily, the past five years, total worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions have exceeded even the pessimistic business-as-usual models.

The business-as-usual scenario will cause average temperatures to rise by about 4 degrees in Aspen by the time today’s toddlers have graduated from college, Williams said.

The new study was sponsored by Aspen Mountain and the Park City Mountain Resort said Lazar. Two nonprofits ” the Aspen Global Change Institute and the Park City Foundation ” are working with the ski areas to better understand environmental climate change.

“Ski industry officials know that warming is real, and that small changes in climate have substantial effects on ski areas,” said Williams, also a fellow at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine research.

One sliver of good news for Colorado is that its resorts likely won’t suffer as dramatically as Park City in Utah, which likely will no snowpack at its base by 2100.

Smaller ski areas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oregon, Washington and California’s Sierra Nevada, could be forced out of business in the coming decades as air temperatures continue to warm, they said.

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