Ski Utah aims to save ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’
If scientists’ most dire warnings about climate change come true, Park City’s slopes could look vastly different in 50 or 100 years. Snow could be a scarcity, and the skiers and snowboarders could be long gone.
A future where skiing and snowboarding is a relic of the past is a bleak scenario the ski industry is trying desperately to prevent. And Ski Utah wants to help lead the charge. The organization last week announced a partnership with the influential environmental awareness group Protect Our Winters.
Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah, said aligning with Protect Our Winters was a natural progression for Ski Utah, which has long been concerned about environmental issues.
"Like our resorts, we see ourselves as good stewards of the land," he said. "Several of our resorts already support POW, and I think we’ll see more doing that. We just felt like it was the right thing to do to raise awareness for this issue."
According to a 2012 report by the National Resources Defense Council and Protect Our Winters, the effects of climate change could mean a 25- to 100-percent reduction in snowpack in the western United States over the next century. The report concludes that would decimate the winter tourism industry, which includes ski resorts and towns that rely on them.
For his part, Rafferty declined to speculate about what a disaster scenario could look like for skiing in Utah or the odds of it happening, but said there’s "not a ski area in this country that doesn’t have it on their mind." He was clear that the stakes for Utah and its $1.2 million winter tourism industry are high.
"It’s a huge issue, especially for a state like Utah that hangs its hat on the greatest snow on Earth," he said. "We’d like to see it stick around. And we’d like to see the state of Utah embrace some of these more progressive energy issues, with a little prodding. We have a great relationship with our elected officials and think that when they understand that helping the environment will help tourism and the dollars it creates for our state, that’ll be a good thing."
Bob Wheaton, president and general manager of Deer Valley Resort, agreed that the ski industry must band together to help solve climate change.
"All of us need to do whatever we can, not only to put forth our best practices, but also to communicate and encourage others to participate in our best practices, as well," Wheaton said. "For someone to say that something (in the climate) is not changing is foolish. We’re definitely seeing change, and it’s up to us to affect that, and shame on us if we don’t."
Ski Utah is not the first organization to align with Protect Our Winters, which has made waves in the ski industry since its inception in 2007. Rafferty said it will take an industry-wide effort to solve the issue, and he’s hopeful that the cause will continue to gain broad support. Climate change has long been a controversial topic along Republican and Democratic party lines, but Rafferty says more and more people are buying into the reality of the danger.
"I like to think that we’ve turned a corner on that," he said. "Maybe I’m a little too optimistic on that, but there used to be a wider gap of people who believed in climate change and people who didn’t. I think the people who don’t believe it’s happening are a shrinking minority."
One of Ski Utah’s first missions will be attempting to get legislative support for the Clean Power Plan, Rafferty said. The plan, introduced in August by U.S. President Barack Obama, establishes standards to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030.
"We’re just encouraging our state leaders to take a hard look at that," Rafferty said. "We’d love to see that be something that they would get behind."
Rafferty acknowledges that change won’t happen overnight. He said Ski Utah is in it for the long haul, but added that steady progress can begin immediately. One area where the organization could make quick contributions is transportation.
"We’re trying to promote the positive side of things and how we can be more efficient, even with things like transportation," he said. "We move a lot of skiers in and out, and how can we do that in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way?"
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