DEEP: The Future of Snow

108 U.S. ski resorts sign climate declaration

Editor’s note: This series follows a yearlong, global project to document disappearing snow in the Northern Hemisphere. We'll be interviewing meteorologists, scientists, skiers, farmers, and anyone who knows anything about snow along the way. The coverage started in Portland, Oregon, on a trans-Rockies road trip, and will continue across the U.S. and Europe.

Save the the powder.

Last Wednesday, 108 U.S. ski resorts signed a Climate Declaration, stating that it's time American businesses put pressure on the U.S. government to take the lead in developing climate change technology, conservation, and awareness. Among other calls to action, the Declaration states:

"We cannot risk our kids' futures on the false hope that the vast majority of scientists are wrong. But just as America arose to the great challenges of the past and came out stronger than ever, we have to confront this challenge, and we have to win. And in doing this right, by saving money when we use less electricity, by driving a more efficient car, by choosing clean energy, by inventing new technologies that other countries buy, and creating jobs here at home, we will maintain our way of life and remain a true superpower in a competitive world."

With 97 percent of climatologists in agreement that burning fossil fuels is warming the planet—and predictions of up to 70 percent less snow in the U.S. by 2100 if emissions are not curtailed—Americans and American businesses are starting to react, if for no other reason than to make money. Several lucrative industries like wind and solar power that were pioneered in the U.S. have moved overseas, largely because of lobbying groups and politics in Washington…like a certain 2012 presidential candidate who vowed to cut all federal funding for renewable energy if he were elected. (The top five oil companies currently make $375 million a day, spend $440,000 a day lobbying Congress, and receive $6.6 million a day in federal tax breaks.)

Rene Crawshaw digs in while he still can. PHOTO: Grant Gunderson

Projections by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the World Bank, and the International Energy Agency that there is no way the world will stay under the U.N.-mandated safety zone of 2C of warming, are chipping away at the stalemate in Washington, and legislators in Congress who deny that human-influenced climate change is happening—including ski state Representatives like Colorado's Cory Gardner, Utah's Jason Chaffetz, California's Duncan Hunter and Tom McClintock, Wyoming's Cynthia Lummis, and Washington's Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

Ceres, the nonprofit business group that is hosting the Declaration, hopes to help break the deadlock. The guiding light for business and climate change: if you learn how to adapt early you will be more profitable, and you can sell your technology and ideas to businesses around the world…that didn't get a head start. Ski areas like Berkshire East and Jiminy Peak have engineered ways to run off of renewable energy. The Aspen Skiing Company, a founding signatory of the Declaration, is another example. It just built a three-megawatt power plant that runs off methane escaping from a nearby coal mine—the first such plant in the U.S. Not only does the generator create 24 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually—enough to power Aspen's entire operation—but it burns methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23-times more potent than CO2, that was previously leaking into the atmosphere. Forty other companies, including General Motors Co., Nike, and Levi Strauss & Co. also signed the bill. A full list of ski industry signatories is available here.

"It is obvious that the success of ski business operations depends greatly on climate, which is why we are so invested in programs that keep our slopes sustainable. But our actions alone won't be enough without strong policies," said Brent Giles, Chief Sustainability Officer for Powdr Corp of Utah, parent company to Park City Mountain Resort in Utah, Copper Mountain in Colorado, and Killington Resort in Vermont. "We welcome legislative and regulatory initiatives that will reduce carbon emissions, incentivize renewable energy development and help improve our resiliency in the future."