DEEP: The Future of Snow: POW

Interview with Protect Our Winters Executive Director, Chris Steinkamp

Disappearing snowpacks could be a standard sight at ski areas worldwide within 50 years. PHOTO: Ryan Creary

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 continued across the U.S. and Europe.

POWDER: When and how did POW start?
Protect Our Winters Executive Director, Chris Steinkamp: POW was founded in 2007. Jeremy Jones had been seeing definitive change in the mountains during his various trips, decreased snowpack and shorter seasons and didn’t see anything formal being done by the winter sports community to address climate change. There was a gap between the issue and it’s effect on us and the response, so he thought that something had to be done to mobilize the community.

POW Executive Director Chris Steinkamp assisted Jeremy Jones with founding the nonprofit in 2007. PHOTO: Courtesy of Protect Our Winters

What is the most important thing skiers can do to save winter right now?
Everyone can do something. We usually ask people to take the POW7 Pledge on our site. It's a list of seven things anyone can do to have a direct impact on climate change. But cutting to it, we all need to pressure our elected officials to fight for climate legislation. At this point, the biggest difference will come from restricting emissions on coal and other fossil fuels, and that kind of change will only come through new policy measures.

What’s the most disturbing climate change news regarding snow you’ve read recently?
I just heard today that the snowpack in the Sierra was measured at 54 percent of average. That’s the second year in a row, and with California getting 30 percent of our water from snowpack, that’s scary. It’s big news for the cities, but also for the huge agricultural community here. People are saying, “Let’s hope next year is different,” but this may be the new normal.

If greenhouse gas emissions remain constant, what do you think winter will look like in the U.S. in 50 years?
Our research has told us that by 2100, if we stay on current the emissions scenario, snow depths in the Lower 48 could decline 20 to 100 percent and the length of the season in the Northeast could be cut in half. So in 50 years, we should see shorter and wetter winter seasons, with a good chance of more of the extreme and unreliable weather we’ve been seeing these past few years.

What if climate change is kept to a 2C cap [2 degrees Celsius]?
Tough to say, but as things warm up, the weather is just going to be more and more unpredictable. We’ll see longer dry spells and a few big storms in between, trending toward less snow and more rain. With this unpredictability, some of the lower elevation resorts will have a tough time staying in business.

What are the best resources skiers can find online to learn about climate change and snow?
Protect Our Winters website and our Facebook page. We try to compile the best snow-related climate news from the experts in the field and we update our Facebook page daily with pertinent information to the snow sports community.

What would you say to someone who thought human-influenced climate change was a hoax?
That's an easy one. We’re seeing climate change firsthand in the mountains. It's real, no doubt. And there is no time to waste debating it any more. If they don’t believe in the human-induced part, I’d tell them to talk to any climate scientist because the science on that is overwhelming too.