The Truth About Snow

An interview with the world’s top skiing climatologist, Daniel Scott

This winter has seen it all, from drought to record snowfall. What does that say about climate change? PHOTO: Jim Harris

This winter has seen it all, from drought to record snowfall. What does that say about climate change? PHOTO: Jim Harris

When it comes to the future of snow—and more importantly, the future of skiing—Daniel Scott is the man with the answers. Or, at least, the man with the possibilities. Will the Northeast have snow in 30 years? No. Will Colorado? Yes. Scott holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario—the first research facility in the world to comprehensively investigate the relationship between climate change and skiing, starting in the 1980s. Many of the computer models used in Europe today come from the university. Scott built his own model 10 years ago and has been using it ever since to predict what will happen to skiing in the next century.

When it comes to reading the future, Scott does not pull his punches. He co-authored a report that spelled the coming end of half of the ski resorts in the Northeast in the next 30 years. He also contradicted studies saying Colorado would suffer the same fate—saying that most climate models are done from a hydrology point of view, and leave out snowmaking in their predictions. The point being, Scott’s studies are scientific, without a conservative or progressive bent. And in a world flooded with misinformation, this is the kind of resource skiers need.


POWDER: Does this winter’s record snow in Colorado and New England disprove the theory that snow is disappearing in the Northern Hemisphere?
Scott: First, snow is not disappearing in the sense that we won’t have any, which is how some readers might interpret that. The higher-than-normal snowfall in the Midwest and New England this winter is illustrative of “weather/climate variability” and not more. If this type of winter occurred regularly over the next 10 to 20 years, only then does it become a climate trend.

What is the future of a white Christmas? Is the fall shoulder season warming as fast as the spring one?
Spring warming is more broadly pronounced globally, but regional differences exist, so it’s not uniform. This sort of discussion has to be more geographically specific to be accurate. White Christmas trends can be seen in the climate data of many locations, if you compare the 1960s and 70s versus the last 10 years. It’s best to get the station data for a couple of illustrative cities to highlight/contrast and demonstrate this point. I did this for a TV interview where I showed how many days below negative 10 degrees Celsius and below -20C we had in Toronto during the ’60s and ’70s versus the 2000s. Below -10 went from average of 55 to 32 days and -20 went from average of eight to nine to less than two days. That is climate change, this winter is “weather.”

Daniel Scott, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, is THE guy to speak about climate change and skiing.

Daniel Scott, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, is THE guy to speak about climate change and skiing.

Is it possible that the Polar Vortex that has been freezing much of the nation is related to climate change?
I have seen a press article (not scientific article) where a climate scientist speculated that the longer period of open water in the Arctic could be linked to altered jet stream and allow the usually contained polar air to “escape” to eastern Canada and the U.S. The research on that is in its very early days, however, and there have been other record-breaking, reduced Arctic ice seasons with no such repeated outbreak of polar air in North America, so the causal mechanism is uncertain. Very early days on any such climate change attribution.

Will snowmaking save skiing forever? Or is it more of a stopgap strategy to keep the industry alive longer?
Snowmaking is an integral adaptation strategy for skiing in virtually all ski regions around the world and will be increasingly important over the next decades. That said, snowmaking has limits (both physical and economic) and those limits will be tested at some ski areas and ski regions during record warm winters over the coming decades, and then in some locations regularly enough that some business models will not be sustainable by mid-century.

What do you tell climate change skeptics who say that all of the snow in the heart of winter this year is proof that climate change is a hoax?
Those that cannot even distinguish between basic concepts of “weather” and “climate” have little business commenting on climate change. According to NOAA, this winter is a near record cold winter in parts of the Midwest, but elsewhere in the U.S., Miami had its third warmest winter ever, while Phoenix and Las Vegas were very close to their warmest winters on record. Around the world, Australia was setting heat wave records in January (see Australian Open being played in temps as high as +43C) and most of the Alps have had a near record warm winter with spring-like conditions since January.

Add a comment

  • Hector G

    this is the dumbest article you guys have ever published. In the 1st paragraph is a bunch of garbage relating to the snow in the east disappearing and then in the interview the guy dosen’t even confirm this opening remark. Read the final question you guys ask him and the guy gives a completely non-nonsensical description of weather events from this year from random places in the US and then throws a jab saying “Those that cannot even distinguish between basic concepts of “weather” and “climate” have little business commenting on climate change!! Well, I guess the joke is on you’re magazine and this clown. Did I just read that correctly? This guy goes on about people talking about the weather and not the climate are the problem then proceeds to talk about this years WEATHER!! lol I have never read and article with this many words that said absolutely nothing before..congratulations. I’ll end this with your own quote from the article “in a world flooded with misinformation, this is the kind of resource skiers need.”….smh. People are gonna trust this guy’s self made computer climate prediction model? lmao In 40 years when i’m skiing the east i’m gonna find this guy so i can laugh at him.

    • Stephen

      Pretty sure you are just the idiot he is referring to.

    • Ryan

      Hector, your grammar is atrocious. If you can’t spell properly, perhaps that means your ability to comprehend what he is saying in the interview is also a bit slow?

      • Mickey MooNaah King

        Oh for fucks sake…stfu

    • Dorian

      I can tell that at least you are capable of reading, although your reading comprehension leaves a lot to be desired.

    • Alec

      I have never read a reply with this many words that say nothing before… Congratulations, you’re an idiot.

  • Nic

    If you’re not looking at the climate models (in our case, the modeled snowpack?) from a hydrological point of view, where do you get the water for the snowmaking?

    • Jamie

      Excellent question, that I share

  • jrowski

    Hector is right on croutons. The substance in this article draws parallels with the depth hoar we dealt all winter in our snow pack in the nw.

  • Jerryh

    Why don’t we ask this guy what the weather is going to be on Friday, if he gets that right, we can take him seriously!

  • Shredthegnarpow

    Mr. Scott. Can you tell us what the ideal climate is on Earth and at what point in Earth’s history did this climate exist? I didn’t think so. Another person making “green” off of the Green Crusade. The Earth is warming people, deal with it. And when Polar ice caps begin to melt and sea levels rise, where do you suppose all of that extra moisture is going to go? The atmosphere of course, and when the atmosphere is is loaded with moisture, it has to drop that moisture somewhere. Lets all get off of the “climate is changing and going to ruin the ski industry” kick, its old, unproven, and has little basis and scientific fact behind it. 4.5 billion years. I think She has it under control.

  • Buzman

    Well put, Hector. I’m very disappointed in Powder for giving this drivel any press. The whole climate change fiasco is based on bad science that allows grant funding to be directed to climatologists who will support government initiatives that agree with bogus alternative energy policies. The sun controls the Earth’s climate. Man’s impact is minimal at best. Yes the climate us changing. It always has and always will. Ask the dinosaurs. At least they were smart enough to not blame themselves.

  • ClimateChangeIsNormal

    Does the model take into consideration axial precession, also known as the earth wobble??

  • Jackson

    Hector– rather low on comprehension, fella! Be careful using the word “dumb”.

  • pete

    Honestly somewhere like mountain creek in new jersey will certainly survive in 30 years. huge snowmaking , over a thousand vertical feet and an hour to NYC…….they have 48 runs you move snowmaking to hammer 20 and raise prices, no way that place is closed in 30 years, no way. way too close to too way too many people. Or Hunter Mountain 2 hours to NYC it can’t warm up enough that the super close places can’t hammer the runs. Every ski area in the northeast relies on snowmaking, but to say no skiing in 30 years after being hammered in 2014 is insane.

  • Powforever

    Silly articles like this are why I quit subscribing to Powder. The problem is not with Scott but a writer who doesn’t have a clue and editors who give this crap space. ALL the climate models are flawed & most are the product of of a system where almost all the money is for “scientists” and activists to push the warming (caused by humans) agenda. Dimwits, the climate has ALWAYS been changing. Vikings were farming in Greenland 900 a.d. But 200 years later they left cause it was too cold. The IPCC admits that we have had 18 years of no warming, defying all their models, but can’t explain why. Hmmmm. I’m with Hector.

  • Buzman

    C’mon Powder, don’t give in to the hype and write this stuff. Blaming mankind and supporting the “Humans are evil” theory just provides more fuel for more bad science. The climate is always changing, naturally. Just ask the dinosaurs. Man’s effect is minimal. Not even measurable. Climatologists love to blame humans because that makes for interesting reading and keeps their research grant money coming in. The changes in the Earth’s relationship with the sun is what changes our climate. No amount of recycled beer cans or restrictions on grocery store bags are going to make a difference in the annual snowfall at Alta. It’s all about the sun.

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