Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Rising Temperatures Imperil Winter Sports Industry

Climate

By Celia Gurney

It's hard to imagine feeling a purer joy than American snowboarder Chloe Kim as she flings herself into a 1080, but Olympic athletes aren't the only ones who love winter sports. In the winter of 2015 and 2016, more than 20 million people took part in downhill skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling in the U.S.


But, there are no winter sports without winter weather, and humans are on track to warm winter into oblivion. Rising temperatures are melting snow, giving winter athletes fewer places to train and compete, according to a new report from climate advocacy group Protect Our Winters. The report found that climate change also threatens to rob the winter sports industries of billions of dollars in revenue.

"Winter is warming. Snow is declining. And that trend hits our communities in the wallet," said Auden Schendler, a Protect Our Winters board member. "It's a story that's playing out all over the U.S. this very season." Over the last century, average December through February temperatures have risen by more than 2 degrees F in the Lower 48. The extra heat has hastened snow melt and caused more precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow.

Diminished snowpack is bad for ski resorts, as well as the hotels, restaurants and sporting goods stores that depend on winter sports to turn a profit. The Protect Our Winters report found that a low snow year can cost the economy more than $1 billion and upwards of 17,000 jobs, compared to the average year.

Protect Our Winters

Scientists have chronicled the many ways that climate change is reshaping American winters. In short, the snow's not doing so hot—or rather, it's doing too hot. Here are the highlights from the research:

  • Less area is covered by snow. On average, the portion of North America covered in snow has shrunk by an area roughly the size of California since the early 1970s.
  • There is less water stored in the snowpack. The amount of water stored in snowpack declined across much of the western United States between 1950 and 1999, and scientists attribute about half of the observed decline to human-caused climate change.
  • Snowlines are receding. The snowline is the elevation at which precipitation begins to fall as snow instead of rain. Like many hairlines, snowlines have been receding over time. Scientists observed that warming temperatures pushed the northern Sierra snowline uphill by as much as 1,500 feet in recent years. Now, daytrippers itching for a snowball fight have to drive further uphill.
  • Less precipitation is coming down as snow. An analysis of reports from California weather stations located between 2,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level found that snow now makes up a smaller share of total precipitation than it did in the past.
  • The "freeze season'" is shorter. The U.S. freeze season—defined as the time between the first freeze in the fall to the last freeze in the spring—was more than a month shorter in 2016 than it was in 1916.

Climate change isn't just taking a toll on skiing and snowboarding. In Minnesota, ponds aren't freezing as consistently as they used to, threatening outdoor hockey. Alaska's Iditarod moved its starting line further north in 2015 due to record-warm temperatures.

Around the world, winter sports are struggling to keep up with climate change. In Bolivia, the retreat of the Chacaltaya glacier forced a popular ski resort to close in 2009. Last year in Canada—where winter temperatures have risen more than 4.5 degrees F since 1950—a leading summer ski camp closed due to declining snowpack. In Switzerland, snow season now starts later and ends earlier than it did in decades past, and businesses are struggling to keep up.

"I've spoken to people in Switzerland who are losing their jobs because winter's going away," cross-country skier Jessie Diggins told The New York Times. "Over the last 10 years, it has been hard to ski on real snow. Over the last three years, most venues have been exclusively on man-made snow."

Athletes and spectators worry how climate change will impact the Winter Olympics. By 2050, nine former host cities may not be reliably cold enough to host the Games—including Sochi and Vancouver. Already, many athletes are having to travel increasingly long distances to find suitable conditions, often to different continents, as longtime training grounds wither in the heat.

"I can see a huge difference," French skier Ben Cavet told the Associated Press, describing his usual summer training site. "Up on the glacier, now there's this huge cliff, you know like a big rock, that you couldn't even see before."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Michael Svoboda

The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.

Read More Show Less
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less