Roger Marolt: The slow death of skiing is a best-case scenario
December 14, 2017
I have been looking at the climate-change apocalypse through a telescope. I stared and squinted, but couldn't see the end of skiing. I think I was zeroing in on a point too far away.
I was focusing 50, 60, maybe 70 years from now — looking for my grandchildren waking one morning in April. It's a pleasant 76 degrees at sunrise. They have a leisurely breakfast on the veranda. A gentle breeze makes it cool enough to sit outside for a little while. It's not the heat, you know; it's the humidity. On the way to the golf course it strikes them that it didn't snow one day all winter, not even the usual 2 inches on New Year's Eve, and they are nostalgic for the stories we told them about skiing the mountains around town now covered with cacti.
It seems impossible.
This vision made me only sort of sad. I would get truly worked up if it was going to happen tomorrow, but the dire straits seem to lie far enough down nature's winding path that it is impossible to work up tears over what might happen three generations from now. C'est la vie. Protect Our Winters, if it's convenient.
Here's the thing, though; I am beginning to believe that I might be able to see the death of skiing with my naked eye. It could happen while many of us are still making turns on our natural knee joints.
I came to this awakening in West Texas, of all places, over Thanksgiving weekend. I was in the clubhouse cooling down after 18 in the 87-degree heat. I was making chatter with a local duffer as I sipped and of course that always begins with the weather. He remarked that the unusual heat this time of year is becoming the usual.
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"It seems the falls are starting to stretch into December," he told me. "And the springs are arriving much later. It's like the seasons are moving ahead clockwise." It could have been the same conversation The Flyers were having at the Sundeck that very moment 5,000 feet higher, 7 degrees further north, and one time zone to the west.
The snow in Aspen is a little thinner a little later this year than normal, at least the old normal. Last year December wasn't the best either, if you recall. And, neither was the one before that. Our autumns have been delightfully long and warm. The trade-off has been that spring stinks, at least by the former standard when they traditionally began about May 1. The seasons here and in West Texas do, indeed, seem to be moving in a clockwise rotation.
The big question in all of this as it relates to the death of skiing is: How long will skiers continue to book advance reservations for the Christmas/New Year period and pay top dollar for the privilege to do so if the odds become greater that the skiing will be worse during that time? It wasn't long ago when tourists flocked here for Thanksgiving because the chances were good that the skiing would be at least fair. Nobody would dare do that anymore.
The continued life of skiing depends on Christmas. It is the two weeks of the season that make or break local businesses. Our town struggles to survive after one bad holiday season. What happens if thin snow becomes the norm at the solstice?
Further compounding the hurt to skiing, the holidays are the time of year when families come to Aspen. It is when kids get exposed to skiing and eventually fall in love with it to become good, paying customers to replace their parents. If they don't come here over winter break anymore, that cycle gets broken.
You see where I'm going with this. It's not really about "if" it snows. It is about "when" it snows. Snowpack doesn't make the lifts run; cash does. No white Christmas equals no tourists and no tourists equals no cash. When the lifts stop running, skiing will be officially dead.
The snow totals for the year may continue ending up being about "normal," but if it doesn't fall at the right time, there will be a drought of money needed to sustain ski area operations. One way or another, climate change appears set on killing skiing. It may do it by degrees over a relatively long period of time, or it may murder it quickly by shifting the seasons. Either way, it doesn't look like a hoax to me.
Roger Marolt wonders if playing golf eight months out of the year in Aspen is the new normal. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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