Ski Execs Vote for Snowmaking Over Climate Protection

Is snowmaking a longterm solution for ski resorts—or contributing to their demise?

An article on Sierra Magazine’s website recently shed light on the motivation of ski resort executives who made hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to climate change-denying U.S. Representatives and Senators. Executives at Vail, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Boyne Resorts, KSL Capital Partners and others supported notorious deniers like Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Reps. Cory Gardner (R-Col.) and Scott Tipton (R-Col.)—who have pushed initiatives like striking down the Clean Power Plan and restarting the Keystone XL pipeline. As Hannah Norman writes in the piece, “It is all about water.”

The story states:

“One of the political risks for a company like Vail Resorts is the retraction of water rights, which is arguably their most critical resource,” Donna Bebb, author of the Stanford report, told me. Artificial snow is energy- and water-intensive, and getting access pits ski resorts against farms, cities, and conservationists during drought years, when water supplies are lowest. In 2012, Vail Resorts reported its water rights as an intangible asset valued at $18.3 million.

Norman goes on to write:

To a ski resort that needs water, supporting a politician like Representative Tipton, who believes that the increasingly erratic weather of the last century is just part of “natural cycles,” makes perfect sense. Tipton has twice introduced the Water Rights Protection Act, which seeks to block the U.S. Forest Service from ever taking control over the water rights for ski resorts that operate on public lands. The ski industry has loudly endorsed the act.

Here’s a place that operates 100 percent on natural God-given snowfall.

Many ski industry execs who supported climate deniers in 2016 claimed that water rights initiatives like Tipton’s were more important to them than Tipton’s climate change views. Yet, the Forest Service mandate that Tipton was fighting was defeated in court soon after it was proposed—in 2011. A second initiative was withdrawn years ago. The reason many Democrats said they voted against the bill: There was no mandate to fight.

Fifty years ago, no American resorts made snow. Now nearly 90 percent operate snowmaking equipment. Snowmaking is the most energy- and water-intensive operation on a ski hill, using up to 50 percent of a resort’s energy costs. Much of that energy comes from coal- and gas-fired power plants across the West—that contribute to climate change and water scarcity…which makes resorts have to blow more snow.

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Which makes you question whether investing in snowmaking is a longterm solution for ski resorts—or a short-sighted gerbil wheel that will ultimately contribute to their demise. Making snow is one of the few stopgap measures that can keep resorts open while the world migrates toward a low-carbon economy. But with the current crop of climate change deniers running Washington D.C., that future is looking warmer and warmer.