Skiing and Climate Change: How The World’s Environmental Crisis Could Harm Winter’s Biggest Sport

Will Mahan, Sports Editor

When we discuss climate change, we often do so through an economic and sustainability lens. According to a 2018 report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the worst impacts arising from climate change could be irreversible by 2030, issues including but not limited to particulate pollution, intense storms, extreme flooding, and disease outbreaks from thawing of ice in the Arctic all have the potential to fundamentally shift the trajectory of life on Earth. 

One of the lesser discussed, yet still important, side effects of global warming is the destruction projected to occur to popular winter sports like skiing. Skiing has already seen its fair share of damage – in the United States alone, the average time between the last frost of the spring and the first of the winter season has extended by 10 days since the first half of the 20th century. Many small towns across rural America have begun to feel the effects of shifting weather patterns; for skiing hotspots such as Hayward, Wisconsin, the slopes drive tourism. Hayward is home to the American Birkebeiner, the largest cross-country ski race in North America: however, in 2017, the event was cancelled due to a lack of snow in the area. While this occurrence may seem isolated, the onset of strange weather trends that have been occurring across the country suggest that the snow loss is anything but normal. Just this past year, we saw widespread power outages in Texas due to a massive blizzard that would’ve been considered impossible a decade ago. As weather patterns gradually shift, it seems inevitable that winter sports like skiing will see a decline. According to Twila Moon, a research scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, we are already seeing massive snow pattern shifts that are severely impacting where and when skiing can be conducted throughout the nation. “Now because of human-caused changes to the climate, we are seeing shorter ski seasons and the quality of our snow is also changing,” Moon stated.

The correlation between climate change and skiing becomes even more surprising when observing the effects it has had on low altitude ski resorts throughout Austria. According to Mark Olefs, the head of the climate research department at Vienna’s Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, the impact of carbon pollution will disproportionately affect lower-level regions of the world. “If greenhouse gas emissions continue at the same level, snow will almost disappear at lower levels by the end of the century,” he warned. Furthermore, many ski resorts have already had to adjust to the changing climate, relying upon artificial snow cannons to keep their trails intact. Although this practice is often successful in the short-term, in the long run snow cannons are predicted to be less and less efficient resources as temperatures rise in lower regions of the world. The Italian Alpines are a prime example of the devastating effects that climate change can have on winter sports, with nearly 200 ski resorts shutting down in the area as the snow season has shrunk by 38 days since 1960. While the fate of skiing remains uncertain in low-altitude communities, there is still hope for the recreational skier.  Many communities have taken to the popular solution of constructing new trails at higher elevations, allowing ski fans a chance to return to the slopes once more. As the world pushes forward in the face of climate change, it has become abundantly clear that we need to change our ways to save the environment. The impact of climate change on winter sports allows for a unique perspective on our current economic and environmental crises, highlighting the need for countries to rally behind scientists in order to prevent any further harm to the globe.