Climate change evokes many terrifying images. Scenes of drowning polar bears and sunken cities come to mind. But, we don’t live in the Arctic, and coastal cities like New York won’t have to worry about being under water any time soon. Some of us may even like the new bizarre weather patterns. I know I liked spending Thanksgiving weekend in shorts and a t-shirt. However, I also really like to ski, and I’m not willing to give that up for eternal summer.
We can debate whether or not global warming is actually happening, but I’m not going to get into that here. What I will say is that, if it is happening, our winters will be shorter, there will be less snowfall, and I, eventually, won’t be able to ski on that natural, fresh powder that every skier dreams of. And that is a problem.
It is a well-recognized reality within the skiing industry that climate change is happening, and that it is already having an effect on the mountains.
“At this point, nobody [involved in the skiing industry in North America] is denying that changes are happening,” says Alexis Boyer-Lafontaine, Public Affairs Director of the Association des stations de ski du Québec (ASSQ). “Ski areas have to take into account weather patterns and climate change scenarios… It’s not something that will, at some point happen. It is already happening.”
Similarly, Catherine Lacasse, Public Relations and Communications Supervisor of Mount Tremblant, says, “We noticed in general, that the start of the season has been less cold in the past few years. We also seem to have more rain.”
“In our perspective, climate change is inevitable, and, at that point, it becomes a question of how we adapt to this change of circumstances and how can we still be able to offer skiers skiing conditions that are optimal for the perpetuation of the sport,” Boyer- Lafontaine continues, insisting that ski resorts in Quebec and all across North America “have been on the path to climate change adaptation for many years, probably before everyone else.”
Resorts in Quebec and other regions of the continent have been making more and more investments in snow making equipment since the 1980s. Ski resorts in Quebec are also now looking into how to do their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by instituting programs that will cut down on vehicle idling in ski resorts.
Mount Tremblant is one of the resorts to have implemented the anti-idling program. Named the “coupe ton moteur,” the program hopes to reach both employees and visitors, according to Lacasse. “We recognize that we need to improve some of our practices from year to year, for example: increas[ing] recycling rate, reduc[ing] water use, includ[ing] composting in some areas of the resort, [and] reducing CO emission through alternative transportation,” she says.
With all of these measures, there may still be hope for the future of skiing and other winter sports. The ASSQ has been involved with many scientific groups to learn more about the situation at hand, including the Montreal-based scientific consortium, Ouranos, which conducted data analyses to help give a more accurate picture of what is going on currently with ski resorts. When the ASSQ received the reports, the findings showed, according to Boyer-Lafontaine, that “the picture of the future of the ski industry is not black and white. There are both positive aspects and concerns. The positive aspect of climate change is that more precipitation is possible in the near future, which is good news.” More precipitation can lead to more snow during the winter. Even rain is preferable to dry conditions, as having sufficient amounts of water helps in the production of artificial snow.
Despite their efforts, nobody is capable of forcing nature to make snow. All that ski resorts can do at the moment is to produce more and more artificial snow when temperatures rise. According to Boyer-Lafontaine, “From the perspective of the industry being able to have snow conditions that are precise and stable over the course of the season is a major concern. It’s directly related to the financial concerns of being able to operate a ski area… [Climate change is] putting more pressure on ski areas to do a better job and become experts at being able to regulate all the snow making equipment.”
In light of this reality, Lacasse says that Mount Tremblant employees must “maximize the artificial snow production at the beginning of the season in order to make sure to have snow in case of rain or warmer temperatures throughout the season. This way, we can always rely on this bank of snow to compensate for the lack if need be.”
While Boyer-Lafontaine suggests that the alpine ski industry is incredibly resilient and capable of adapting to the current and coming challenges of climate change, the point still stands that those days of waking up in the morning to three feet of fresh powder, and making first tracks, will be fewer and far between if our current climate crisis is not abated.