A Skier’s Guide to a Season’s Worth of Climate Change

Since the early 19th century, climate change has been hotly debated amongst the greatest scientific minds. Meanwhile, skiers were undergoing an intense evolution as well, from rectangular planks of wood to curved boards with metal bindings. For many of us, the intersection between climate change and skiing has shown itself in a welcomed myriad of excuses: 

I just can’t rip like I used to, because of climate change. I would have skied that line better but I’m just not in the right headspace, because of climate change. Usually, I would hike this way faster, but I don’t want to contribute to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increase the effects of climate change. I can’t ski that today because my feet hurt, because of climate change. I still pee down my legs in my one-piece, because of climate change. I can’t pull my skins apart, because of climate change. My beacon boob is unwieldy, because of climate change. I didn’t wipe out up there...it was climate change. 

While there have been rumors that climate change doesn’t exist, it is our responsibility as skiers to prepare ourselves and our denim-wearing, wedge-christying counterparts for this new and inevitable reality.

Climate change is the result of a number of factors, but those most pertinent to the ski industry are travel to and from ski destinations. In December, the Aspen airport averages 113 flights per day. While a flight technically counts as carpooling, that is still an incredible amount of planes popping in and out of town. Not only is this a clear contributor to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but also a sign that the financial means within the ski industry are at an all-time high and we should be the starting point to initiate this change. In a conversation with Auden Schendler, the Senior Vice President for Sustainability and Community Engagement for Aspen Skiing Company, he shared that while he does not single out the ski industry as the most carbon-intensive endeavor in the nation, he does “think that as a place of conspicuous consumption but also wealth and influence, we’re perfectly positioned to leverage that power to solve the climate problem. We have an obligation to do that, but we also have a better shot at it than most places.”

What do these effects feel like? The most immediate changes we will fill are both in the quality of our winter and the quantity of our on-mountain days. While Schendler has a solid and action-oriented grasp on the effects climate change has on the industry he notes that “the number of frost-free days per year in Aspen has grown by more than a month since 1940. That means we’ve lost a month of winter since the ski industry began. Over that time average temperatures have increased more than 2 degrees F in Aspen.” Caroline Gleich, a professional skier and climate activist voices a similarly tangible concern, “one of the effects of climate change I’ve seen in my home mountain range, the Wasatch, is that more snow is falling as rain, and the snow line gets higher and higher. Places where we used to be able to ski rarely come into condition. In other parts of the world, I’ve seen how quickly glaciers are receding. Climbing routes that used to be used are no longer usable as the glacial recession makes more dangerous conditions. In tropical latitudes such as Peru, the glaciers are melting so quickly, I worry some of the ski lines may no longer be skiable!” Climate change may feel like a distant worry, when in fact, we have been experiencing the effects for decades. 

So what do we do? According to Schendler, “we need to stop being distracted by personal actions, which are wonderful but have no bearing on global climate, and recognize that in the timeframe we have, and given the scale of the problem, only civic engagement, advocacy, politicking, and pushing hard on government and business gives us a prayer of solving this problem.” So what does this mean? Simply put my professional skier and environmental activist Caroline Gleich, “if you don’t like the candidates, run for office.”

Maybe you are on a limited budget or are too deep in the white room to picket in front of the white house. But as a skier who has spent years eating nothing more than the free saltines and relish from the on-mountain restaurants, there are ways where you can limit and mitigate your impact. First, recognize that skiing is a privilege. We have manipulated nature, native lands, historical sites, wildlife habitats and fragile ecosystems for our fleeting enjoyment. So spend 5 minutes and give these places the respect they deserve. Next? Take the bus! You know finding parking isn’t fun anyway so take the bus, ride a bike or pray for a big year and, dare we say it, ski to the resort! There’s a killer Instagram story for you and you’ve added *nothing* to your carbon footprint in the process. Finally, make a relish and saltine sandwich and give your hard-earned lunch money to Protect Our Winters (or the ski resort’s/your local eco-nonprofit). There are already people doing the work, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

None of these options ringing your bell? Buy used gear. Yes, rule number one is “look good,” but if you can ski, your 2002 camouflage Obermeyer will be in next year’s Vogue. At the risk of sounding alarmist, it is imperative that we all do our part to mitigate climate change by doing the big (and little) things that will help to protect our winters.

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