One degree makes the difference between rain and snow falling in the mountains. And one decision is all it takes for a ski industry executive to help save snow for its patrons, board members, investors, and every other creature, plant, and soul living near the mountains. The right decision is to use the influence and resources of the $60-billion snow-sports industry to aggressively push for meaningful state and national climate change legislation.
At this very late stage in the game, large-scale policy change regarding how we create and consume energy is the best, and perhaps only, way to save winter. It is natural that the ski industry—which is already hurting from the effects of warming—take a leadership role in doing that. Awareness campaigns, Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), recycling, and efficiency improvements are commendable, but they will not move the needle. For many executives, touting these initiatives has been a way to say they are doing something, while not doing nearly enough. Snow is melting at a historic rate, and it will only get worse if we continue on a business-as-usual track.
An exec from a trade group told me flatly, "The climate is changing. We are becoming four-season resorts. Skiers will just have to get their mountain bikes out."
Which is exactly where the ski industry is: business as usual. Significant financial contributions by ski resorts, PACs, and industry executives to Congressional climate deniers in last November's election helped stack both houses with legislators who have vowed to block all meaningful climate change legislation. President Donald Trump, who has called climate change "bullshit," has slashed budgets for climate change research and environmental protection while increasing domestic gas and oil production. (Here is a list of the environmental rules he has already rolled back in his first 100 days in office, compiled by the New York Times.) He named notorious climate change denier Myron Ebell to lead the EPA's transition team and Scott Pruitt to carry out rollbacks, cuts, and revisions to the EPA. Ebell, who receives payments from the coal industry, says climate change is "not based on science" and waxed on the benefits of a warmer world, like having "fewer and less severe big winter storms." Pruitt was on a team of attorneys who sued the EPA over its Clean Power Plan and is a self-described “advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”
Is this the kind of leadership the ski industry needs? The response from many executives to a recent article published on Powder.com that listed donations to climate deniers was that ski executives are not "single-issue voters," that a Congressperson's help with a land or water deal took precedence over his or her position on climate change. Two execs pointed to major hotel deals that climate deniers in Congress helped land. One owner said that his resort's commitment to slowing climate change could be seen in the extensive snowmaking system it just upgraded. An exec from a trade group told me flatly, "The climate is changing. We are becoming four-season resorts. Skiers will just have to get their mountain bikes out."
Many got what they wanted on November 8, 2016, and all indicators point to an even worse scenario than "business-as-usual" for the next four, eight, or who knows how many years. The question is, was it worth it? Will the new Mammoth Mountain Inn offer the best vista from which to watch another dismal snow year? Will the 11,685-square-foot Four Seasons Hotel in Jackson Hole pick up the slack when the ski season ends in February instead of April? How about Squaw Valley's 1,500-bed "Village," approved in November? Will your children get the same thrill of skiing a powder slope as they would in its climate-controlled, 90,000-square-foot Mountain Adventure Center?
Look into the future and tell me that a decade of supporting climate deniers has been worth it, that the pork they offered made our mountain towns better places to live. Tell me that anti-climate change legislators like Cory Gardner (R-Col.), Paul Cook (R-Calif.), Chris Stewart (R-Utah), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Scott Tipton (R-Col.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)—that you helped put into office—embrace the long vision, put our planet first, and steward the one resource, snow, that your business depends on. Tell me that your kids and grandkids will be proud of your voting and advocacy record.
Planning massive four-season expansions is not a way to save snow. It is rolling the dice at best. At worst, it is giving up.
I have worked with, near, or alongside many of these industry execs for more than 20 years. Most are good people. Most are passionate about the mountains, skiing, and snow. But many are unfamiliar with the reality, urgency, and accuracy of current climate change forecasts—and the accelerated timeframe we are now looking at.
Which is to say, spending millions of dollars to make snow today is not going to save snow for tomorrow. Promising a one percent reduction in greenhouse gases at a resort over five to 10 ten years will not save snow. Planning massive four-season expansions is not a way to save snow. It is rolling the dice at best. At worst, it is giving up.
If nothing else, listen to the money. When winter shrinks by six weeks, ski areas go out of business. When ski areas go out of business, entire towns, counties, and states take a huge economic hit. Bad winters have already hurt the industry. Low snowfall between 1999 and 2010 cost the winter tourism industry $1 billion and 27,000 jobs.
It is not an easy hand we have been dealt. The booming real estate market in mountain towns is at risk. Thousands of businesses where we rent skis, buy hotdogs, and party after a powder day are at risk. Hundreds of gateway communities at lower elevations are at risk, along with farms, forests, river habitat, and millions of people who depend on snowmelt for their water supply. With the fate of our favorite mountains and towns on the line, ski industry executives should be using every resource they have to make whatever change they can.
Skiers did not create climate change, but we are among a few populations who will be hit by it hardest. It's time to stand up and save our snow. Forget about fear. Get serious about advocacy and put candidates into office who will do the right thing and lead us into a cold, snowy future.
Porter Fox is the features editor at Powder. This story originally published in the February 2017 issue of POWDER and has been updated to reflect current events. Subscribe to the Skier’s Magazine for $14.97.