Future of Winter Olympics Skating On Thin Ice
by AMANDA GRIFFITHS
Winning gold at the Olympics is touted as the pinnacle of athletic achievement. Every four years, we hear stories of athletes’ endurance and perseverance while we watch all of their dedication pay off. We experience these feats in real time- feeling the nerves and tension of competitors as they either realize their greatest potential or fall short of their goals. But many of these achievements require one crucial component– snow!
Climate Change and the Winter Games
In the Winter Olympics, sporting events showcase brilliant mountainsides covered in fresh snow. But what will happen to these mountainside locations in coming years? Will climate change impact the number of cities able to host the games? As temperatures warm, snowfall is decreasing and snowmelt is increasing in mountains across the globe. By mid-century, nine previous host cities will no longer be able to reliably host future games. While some locations can compensate for lower snow yields with artificially made snow, those machines are only effective when temperatures remain below freezing. A larger problem presents itself when temperatures become too warm to sustain snow on mountainsides.
In the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Olympics, above average temperatures left organizers scrambling to cover bare mountainsides. In some cases, hay was laid underneath snow from higher elevations to cover athletic courses. And while artificial snow can improve the appearance of ski slopes, athletes have complained about the texture and spread of it impacting their performance and safety. During qualifiers for the half-pipe snowboarding event at the Sochi games, more than half of the athletes fell.
In future years, climate change will disqualify a number of prior hosts from hosting again. According to research conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, models predict that, some time between 2041 and 2070, Vancouver, Squaw Valley, Oslo, and other cities that have hosted the games in the past will simply not sustain cold enough winter temperatures to host again. Three past hosts–Sochi, Russia, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and Squaw Valley, United States–are unlikely to be able to reach 30 cm of snow even with artificial snowmaking. Athletes are already being forced to seek snow before going for gold. Melting snowcaps are forcing winter athletes worldwide to travel further to find good powder, ironically compounding the effects of climate change by emitting more carbon.
Some Winter Olympic athletes have become vocal advocates for climate action. American cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, for example, has remarked, “You only get one earth to live on, and you have to breathe the air that is on this earth. We have to do it in a way that doesn’t hurt families economically, which is why I’m supporting the carbon fee and dividend solution, because it puts a fee on carbon and returns the revenue to households.” Team Great Britain snowboarder Aimee Fuller trains annually in Switzerland, where snowfall has been getting noticeably sparser. She has noted that, “Snowboarding is really susceptible to the impact of climate change and we can see the impact on our sport in the mountains on a daily basis.” Winter athletes are at the frontlines of climate change, and the attention they receive on the international stage presents opportunities to advocate for global climate action.
The Local Snow Economy
The issues plaguing Olympic venues mirror the struggles faced by our local snow sports industry. Here in New England, ski and snow businesses are already adapting to the impacts of climate change. During an average year, winter recreational snow and ice activities generate about $7.6 billion for the Northeast economy. But now, snow seasons in the Northeast are getting shorter and shorter, threatening the financial sustainability of ski resorts and other snow-based companies. By 2100, it is estimated that only 4 out of the 14 major ski areas in the Northeast will still be open. We saw a glimpse of that future in the 2009/2010 snow season, during which the Northeast ski mountain industry lost 1,700 jobs and $108 million in economic value.
In our Champions of Snow series last year, we spoke with five skiing businesses in the Northeast to learn about their actions to preserve the winter climate and economy. Mountains such as Mt. Abram are gearing up for uncertain winter snow seasons with 100% airless snow guns, which require no electrical energy for snow production. Berkshire East, the world’s only ski resort using 100% onsite renewable energy, has adopted solar and wind technology to reduce emissions and ensure energy security. Seasonal diversification is another means of ensuring economic security. By building infrastructure for summer activities such as mountain biking, zip lining, and hiking, ski mountains such as Berkshire East have transformed into year-round outdoor activity hubs.
This year, we’ve continued our Champions of Snow series with more local business interviews and will be releasing a video further investigating resilience efforts in the industry. Stay tuned for more updates on our endeavor!
AMANDA GRIFFITHS, EVENTS AND OFFICE COORDINATOR
Amanda comes to CABA from the Massachusetts State House, where she served as the Legislative and Communications Director and subsequently, as the Staff Director for the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. While at the State House, Amanda focused on energy and environmental policy, including renewable energy adoption, transportation sector emissions, climate resiliency and toxics. She graduated from Colgate University in 2013 with a degree in Environmental Biology and Geography, researching climatology and ecosystem ecology in the Adirondacks and Costa Rica. Amanda is currently pursuing a Professional Certificate in Graphic Design at MassArt, where she hopes to build on her science and policy experience.
Champions of Snow Feature Piece: Climate Change and the Ski Mountain Industry
By Michael Green, Executive Director
As we say goodbye to winter, our routines have adjusted and those uniquely winter tasks feel habitual. We pull out our shovels each snowfall and sprinkle salt across the front steps. Add 20 minutes into our commute plans. Pull on an extra layer or two on the bitterly cold days. And for the adventurous among us, plan as many trips to the slopes as possible.
Whether you ski, snowboard, snowmobile, or sled, fresh snow means you get to strap on your gear, head out to your favorite mountain, and spend hours doing what you love most. Families look forward to the day when they get to see their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren carry on what they love to do. Yet, in recent decades, winters have been getting warmer and snow sport seasons have been getting shorter.
People often associate climate change with sweltering summers, rising sea levels, and stranded polar bears on melting glaciers. However, climate change will have a huge effect on the snow sports community and industry as well if we don’t start taking action now. The skiing industry in particular is feeling the burden of warmer winters.
Between 2001 and 2009, the ski mountain industry lost an estimated $1.07 billion in aggregated revenue from fluctuating snowfall year to year. It is also estimated that by 2100, only 4 out of the 14 major ski areas in the Northeast will remain open. In the winter of 2009/10, which was a particularly low snowfall year, the Northeast ski mountain industry lost 1,700 jobs and $108 million in economic value compared to previous high-snowfall years.
With current predictions indicating winter temperatures to rise an additional 4-10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, winters are going to continue to accumulate less snow, mountain sports seasons will get shorter, the industry will continue to lose money and the communities dependent on snow will continue to struggle. Climate change doesn’t just happen overnight – it occurs gradually. Therefore, in order to combat warmer winters in the skimountain industry, we need to be able to mitigate our impact and adapt to the inevitably warmer conditions.
In response to these threats, my organization, Climate Action Business Association, set out to identify and showcase ski mountains that are tackling this challenge head-on. Our “Champions of Snow” initiative is part of our efforts to organize small, local businesses to take targeted action on climate change. I had the privilege of talking to 5 ski mountains in the Northeast that are making a conscious effort to mitigate and adapt to warmer winters: Bolton Valley, Shawnee Peak, Berkshire East Mountain Resort, Mt. Abram, and Mad River Glen. They are all small, locally cherished resorts pioneering sustainability in the industry, and most certainly deserve the title Champion of Snow.
As I chatted with these mountains, I got a sense of what makes each one unique, and was left with four key takeaways about the resiliency to climate change in the small mountain ski industry.
1. Last winter was particularly tough across the board.
For those of us that love having snow on every edifice we see, last winter was a real buzzkill on the East Coast. This lack of snow proved to be particularly difficult for the Northeast ski industry, which relies heavily on having cold enough temperatures to keep snow on the slopes. This meant that the ski season started later and mountains depended largely on man made snow.
“We don’t make snow for the sake of making snow. We make it if we need to” explained Shawnee Peak’s Geoff Homer. However, mountains like Shawnee Peak are using new, energy efficient snowmaking techniques that maximize snow production while using less of the compressed air, diesel, and money that traditional snowmaking requires.
“People don’t want to see another repeat of what we had last year”, said Mt. Abram’s Dave Scanlan, who has the first fleet of 100% airless snow guns. Therefore, mountains are gearing up to be as prepared and efficient as they can be with the uncertainty of the coming winters.
2. Energy efficiency and renewables are a great way to cut costs and emissions.
The newest trend in the ski mountain industry is the use of energy efficiency equipment and renewable energy for day-to-day operations. Berkshire East’s Jonathan Schaefer explained, “We started to look 20 years out and see where electricity would be. It’s pretty elastic. We viewed solar and wind as a solution to the future electricity prices”. Berkshire East is the only ski resort in the world that generates 100% of their electricity from onsite renewable energy. Utilizing renewable energy can help mountains power their snow guns and facilities while saving money in the long run.
Perhaps the simplest way to save energy is to just do less. By maintaining a healthy forest, implementing snow reservoirs, and keeping operations and facilities simple, Mad River Glen requires significantly less energy than its neighbors do. “It’s not what we do, it’s what we don’t do” said spokesman Eric Friedman. They use so little energy that they are able to purchase it like most homeowners do. When large scale renewable energy is not an option, minimizing consumption and utilizing the natural defense mechanisms of nature can be just as efficient.
3. Take advantage of what the other seasons have to offer.
A common trend in the ski mountain industry is to incorporate activities from other seasons into their business model. Whether it be mountain biking, zip lining, hiking, or more, having these attractions can help bring in revenue throughout the year. Berkshire East generates most of their revenue from summer operations. As Jonathan Schaefer explained, “We’ve diversified our business to the point where 60% of revenue is coming from year round operations.” Adapting business models to include other opportunities is an effective way to increase resiliency during warmer winters.
4. Being sustainable doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
When I asked each mountain what advice they would give to other mountains, a common theme emerged: it’s okay to start with small initiatives and then work your way up to bigger ones. That is exactly what each of the 5 Champions of Snow did. “I would encourage people that are considering it to not wait, even if you can only do a little bit now” says Geoff Homer.
Most of the mountains got to where they are today by starting with actions as small putting in LED lighting and recycling bins, or planting more trees. “It’s the right thing to do for the environment” said Bolton Valley General Manager, Josh Arneson. Even the small things matter as warmer winters continue to impact not just the ski mountains, but all who call them home.
It’s important to stay positive as we enter into another winter season. Knowing that there are smaller mountains taking active steps to reduce their impact on warmer winters acts as a guiding light for those of us that cherish and value them. The Champions of Snow have showed us that climate change isn’t so black and white, and while we mostly hear about how it affects us in the summer, climate change is a winter issue, too.
You don’t need to be the Aspens of the world in order to be sustainable. Even if it is just switching to LED lighting or putting up signs urging guests to recycle, those little things can still make a difference. The snow sports community is already bonded by our strong love for snow. Let’s strengthen our bond and work together to make sure we can share our favorite winter pastimes for generations to come.
A big thank you to Bolton Valley, Shawnee Peak, Berkshire East, Mad River Glen, and Mt. Abram for their contribution, insight, and environmental stewardship. It was a pleasure learning about your amazing mountains and I wish you all the best of luck in the coming seasons. You are all doing great work.
Michael Green comes to CABA as a seasoned advocate for climate policy and environmental action. Since 2012, he has served as a representative to the United Nations focusing on international climate science and policy. In his role at CABA, Michael manages staff and oversees the development of all program areas. He sits on the Board of Boston area non-profits as well as a policy advisor to national business associations on topics ranging from energy policy to climate adaptation. Michael is a Northeastern University graduate with degrees in international affairs and environmental studies, course work at the University of Edinburgh’s MSc Program in Environmental Protection and Management and Harvard Business Schools CORe Program.
We are highlighting five ski mountains in the northeast that are taking proactive measures to protect themselves against the warmer winter that climate change causes. Part 4 of our Champions of Snow series was featured on Bolton Valley’s website. Check it out!
MORE THAN JUST YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD SKI AREA
By Carly Hicks, Climate Action Business Association
Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Richmond, Vermont prides itself on being the friendly neighborhood ski area; the perfect place to spend time outside with the family. It’s the place where you spontaneously run into your neighbor on the chairlift, spend hours making memories with friends and family, enjoy sunsets and moonlight over Lake Champlain, and shred the gnar in the backcountry. But all of this is at stake with a changing climate.
In recent years, warmer winters have lead to shorter ski seasons for the Bolton Valley community. Josh Arneson, Bolton Valley’s press contact, recalled last year’s El Niño brought a lot of rain and increased vegetation on the slopes. And with each winter warmer than the last, ski resorts across the country are facing unprecedented challenges.
In the face of these threats, Bolton Valley has incorporated a host of sustainability initiatives into their business practices, putting them on the radar of a Boston-based organization helping local businesses take targeted action on climate change. The organization, Climate Action Business Association , chose five New England ski resorts to highlight as Champions of Snow this winter, showcasing the efforts that small mountains are taking to lessen their environmental impact and adapt to the warmer winters that climate change brings.
Throughout the Champions of Snow interview, it became clear that Bolton Valley has been ahead of the curve on climate change preparedness. In 2009, they became the second ski area in the country to sport a wind turbine on site and generate electricity from it. The wind turbine uses a system called net metering, which allows any surplus energy generated to be transferred to the public-utility power grid. Capable of operating at low wind speeds, the turbine produces approximately 300,000 kilowatt hours of power annually, adding up to one-eighth of the energy used by the ski area.
“The wind turbine was ambitious” says Arneson. But with good will from their community, they took the opportunity, trusting the benefits of wind power. Already, Bolton Valley has reduced its energy consumption and increased cost savings.
In addition to investing in wind power, Bolton Valley has also purchased efficient snowmaking guns. The snow guns use less fuel and therefore pollute less carbon, while producing more snow. They help the area stay open longer, cut energy bills, and save approximately 171 tons of carbon dioxide each year.
These large-scale initiatives are complemented by many smaller projects. Energy efficient snow grooming, pellet stoves and local food in the base lodges, LED lighting, and recycled topsoil are a few other ways Bolton Valley reduces that climate impact. Easily accessible Vermont state programs that encourage energy efficiency were a great help in carrying out these initiatives.
Bolton Valley serves as a model for mountains across the country. By piecing together different energy efficiency and renewable energy technology, ski areas can prepare their business for an uncertain future while securing and improving their bottom line. “Try to do what you can” says Arneson. “Pick the low hanging fruit; it can save you money.”
If you are interested in Bolton Valley, check out their website or head over to the mountain for an amazing day on the slopes.
We are highlighting five ski mountains in the northeast that are taking proactive measures to protect themselves against the warmer winter that climate change causes. Part 3 of our Champions of Snow series was featured in The Advertiser Democrat. Here’s a sneak peak – or click here to read the full article
We are highlighting five ski mountains in the northeast that are taking proactive measures to protect themselves against the warmer winter that climate change causes. Part 2 of our Champions of Snow series was featured in The Recorder. Here’s a sneak peak – or click here to read the full article!
Berkshire East named energy champion by state group
By Diane Broncaccio, Recorder Staff
“CHARLEMONT — ‘Snow Champion’ might easily describe the Berkshire East Mountain Resort, which can make its own snow if needed. But the fact that Berkshire East can also make all its own electricity from renewable wind and solar power is why the ski resort was named as one of five ‘Champions of Snow’ by the Climate Action Business Association (CABA).
This is a Boston-based group founded in 2013 to help business leaders become more effective advocates for climate change action and set goals for reducing their own carbon footprints. The organization has about 100 member businesses, mostly from Massachusetts.
Berkshire East is one of five New England ski areas that are “tackling climate change and warmer winters head-on,” according to Jamie Garuti, CABA communications manager. ‘We were truly inspired by Berkshire East, as the only ski resort in the world to generate 100 percent of (its) electricity from onsite renewable energy,’ Garuti said.
In 2011, Berkshire East began running a 900-kilowatt-hour wind turbine. And a year later, Berkshire East leased a site to AllEarth Renewables to build an 1,800-panel, 500-kWh solar farm.
General Manager Jonathan Schaefer said the decision to install renewable energy systems at the family-run ski resort was a way for them to carry out their values and to be ‘as efficient and cost effective with our operations as possible.’
According to CABA, Berkshire East’s renewable energy systems have helped the resort to become more resilient and stay open longer than competitors when the warmer winter weather has shortened the ski season.
The wind turbine alone produces enough energy to power the mountain’s snow guns, which traditionally cost ski resorts a lot of money and produce carbon pollution. Schaefer said by using renewable energy, the cost of using snow guns is mitigated and Berkshire East is able to open the ski area earlier than other resorts.”
Champions of Snow pt. 1: Mad River Glen
We are highlighting five ski mountains in the northeast that are taking proactive measures to protect themselves against the warmer winter that climate change causes. Here’s Part One of the Champions of Snow series!
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