Mountain Town News: The Sierras get their snowpack, but climate change marches on
February 19, 2019
Tahoe gets dumped on, but there will be far less by 2100
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Ski resorts of the Tahoe-Truckee area of the Sierra Nevada have been getting the kind of dumps for which they've long been known. One recent storm alone delivered more than six feet of snow, with another such storm over the weekend predicted to deliver five to seven feet to areas above 7,000 feet.
Oh so different from the drought of recent years, when it was possible to walk into meadows in ordinary street shoes to record the snow depths.
It's also likely to be different again in the future. Not because of drought. But because the warming climate will produce less snow.
That was the conclusion of a study released by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in November. The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, predicted a 79 percent drop in peak snowpack water volume by 2100 in headwaters for 10 major reservoirs in California.
Alan Rhoades, a Berkeley Lab post-doctoral fellow and lead author of the study, said a community of models was analyzed. The models tend to disagree about mid-century climatic conditions. By 2100, they cohere that a dramatic decline in the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada will occur if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase as they have. Carbon dioxide levels last year reached 410 parts per million.
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Researchers talked to water managers in advance about what metrics would be most useful for resource planning.
"Water managers are constantly competing between how much flood risk can they handle with reservoir storage and how much supply they can provide for urban and agricultural users," Rhoades said.
California, like Colorado and most other Western states, depends to a great extent upon its mountain snowpack for water. That snow arrives in a very narrow window.
"We basically get 50 percent of our annual precipitation in 5 to 15 days, or one to two weeks," Rhoades said in a press release from Berkley Lab issued in December.
California's storms, perhaps unlike those of the Rocky Mountains, tend toward relative warmth.
"So as the world continues to warm, these storms will get even warmer and won't readily get to freezing, whereby you could have snowfall or snow accumulation and the persistence of snow on the surface," he said.
The study also found that peak snowpacks will occur, on average, four weeks earlier.
Declines will not be equal across the Sierra Nevada, however. Lower elevations, such as in the Tahoe-Truckee area, will see more rain, less snow. Lake Tahoe when full has an elevation of 6,224 feet. This compares with Colorado resorts, where most base areas are at 8,000 to 9,000 feet, with several ski areas topping out above 12,000 feet.
The study also found that snow season – both the accumulating time and the melting – will decrease by 20 days by mid-century and by 30 days by century's end.
Is there any way around this? Reducing emissions will slow but not stop warming, as much of the future warming is already locked in, such as the carbon dioxide temporarily in the oceans.
Holding the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) would require unprecedented social changes, Dr. Kristie Ebi, a lead author on a recent special report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told an audience in Tahoe recently.
If temperatures rise 2 degrees C, the impacts will be much bigger, she said.
The California water research was conducted as part of the Hyperion Project. The Colorado River Basin will also be studied in similar fashion.
Will ski area's lifts run again in 2020 after 15-year lapse?
CANMORE, Alberta – There is new hope in the Kananaskis Country south of Banff for a ski area shuttered since 2005. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports $5 million has been raised by private investors to get the Fortress Mountain ski area opened by as early as late 2020.
What will be different this time? That's not clear. The challenge outlined by Andy Waddell, the chief financial officer for the company, will be to capture more of the skiers and snowboarders from Calgary typically who travel across the Continental Divide to ski at resorts in British Columbia or to Idaho and Montana.
Fortress lies about two hours from Calgary, compared to three or four hours for the nearest resorts in British Columbia.
"Fifty percent of (the more than 5 million) Albertan ski days are outside the province," he said. "That's a huge number of skiers that leave Alberta to ski simply because Alberta's ski hills are full."
On its website, the new ownership group attributes the 2005 closing to lack of investment. They also suggest plans to produce base-area ski-in, ski-out accommodations.
The ski area was created in 1967. It was purchased in the 1970s by the Aspen Skiing Co., which re-named it Fortress Mountain, to reflect the rocky monolith that towers over the resort's slopes. In the 1990s, it was purchased by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, which also owned Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and five others.
With lifts nearing the end of their life cycle and skier visits declining, the company closed Fortress in 2004. Since 2010, the slopes have been used for cat skiing.
The Kananaskis area where the resort is located has been a backdrop for several Hollywood movies. Leonardo DiCaprio earned his Oscar there playing the part of frontiersman Hugh Glass in "Revenant," while the late Heath Ledger supposedly fought a bear while playing the role of Ennis del Mar in "Brokeback Mountain." Brad Pitt was there, too, for the filming of the "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."
To open, Fortress Mountain needs a new potable water system and refurbished sewer line plus a new day lodge and new or refurbished lifts. A mountain-top restaurant and other niceties are also planned.
Fortress estimates it has $41 million in infrastructure already in place.
Whistler-based Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners was retained to create a master plan.
Chris Chevalier, president of Fortress Mountain, said his company envisions a ski area more like British Columbia's Red Mountain than Whistler.
Total lift capacity will be 2,500. In comparison, Red Mountain has an hourly capacity of 7,500 per hour, Lake Louise 14,000 passengers, Colorado's Winter Park 40,000, Utah's Deer Valley 50,000, and Whistler 67,000.
Book probes ecosystem of Jackson Hole's ultra-wealth
JACKSON, Wyo. – If you're going to study income inequality, few places have as much as Wyoming's Jackson Hole and the Aspen-Snowmass area of Colorado. Both areas—Teton County in Wyoming and Pitkin County in Colorado—have scenery that can keep you cross-eyed. They also routinely rank among the top 10 counties for wealth in the United States.
For his study, Yale University sociology professor Justin Farrell focused on Jackson Hole and its adjoining areas, including Teton County, Idaho. He interviewed 200 people, mostly those of wealth, but also those at the other end of the economic spectrum of which Jackson and its satellite towns have in abundance.
Farrell's findings are contained in a soon-to-be published book, "Billionaire Wilderness: Ultra-Wealth, Inequality, and Environment."
In it, reports the Teton Valley News, Farrell explores the motives for generosity among the affluent and how their giving helps them address economic and social problems in their own lives. The book shows how the ultra-wealthy use nature, the arts, and other "gilded philanthropy" to protect and multiply their wealth and absolute absolve themselves of the stigma and guilt that can come with affluence."
At its heart, he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide, the book seeks to understand social class and how social class influences how we use nature.
As a boy, Farrell often went to Idaho's Teton Valley, located in the morning shade of the Teton Range, where one of his grandfather lived there. It has Grand Targhee, the ski area, but not the great wealth on the other side of the range. There, the told the News&Guide, people snowmobiled, instead of downhill skied, because they found it cheaper. That's one of the distinctions of class and how different economic classes uses nature.
(Although snowmobiles, the trailers used to transport them, and the pickups needed to pull them don't exactly constitute cheap recreation.)
In a book published in 2015, Farrell studied the connection between nature, environmentalism, politics, and social class in the Yellowstone National Park area.
"There's a history, especially in the national parks, of using environmental value and using environmental science, to dominate another social group and to take resources, whether those are cultural resources or natural resources."
The new book has a couple of chapters that document where the money from the wealthy goes, but also where the social influences flow. "Most of it goes to organizations that serve the wealthy, or it goes to environmental organizations like the (Jackson Hole) Land Trust."
"Their love for the area is genuine and they care for the community, but the ways that they display it can be odd or even harmful,'" Farrell told the Teton Valley News.
Disagreements in Aspen's very high-rent district
ASPEN, Colo. – Investors from Dallas last year purchased the lower part of a four-story building in downtown Aspen for $28 million. They want to rent 3,700 square feet of the second floor out for special events like wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, and fashion shows. In doing so, they want to be able to serve liquor.
Should they? The local liquor authority decided no, reports the Aspen Times, because the liquor license didn't fit with the intent of local regulations.
Joe Krabacher, an attorney representing the investors, saw something else. It was, he said, another example of the "sterilization of downtown Aspen by wealthy residential owners who don't want to be bothered."
House design matters more than location for solar gain
CANMORE, Alberta – For homes that want to be self-sustaining in energy, design matters much. That point was driven home in Canmore, at the entrance to Banff National Park, in the assessment of solar energy potential.
A recent report concluded that rooftop solar on houses on the valley's sunnier eastern side were expected to outperform those on the western side, which falls within the shadows of towering mountains earlier in the day.
But rooftop geometry had 4.3 times more impact on solar potential than the location, reports the Rocky Mountain Outlook.
Canmore has set a goal of reducing community greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2040.
In Colorado, the mountain-rimmed Grand County also looks to add more solar. The Sky-Hi News reports county officials have identified several areas in its valleys, which range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
That's about the elevation of several solar farms in Colorado's San Luis Valley. There's more sun in the San Luis Valley, although not as much as in the Mojave Desert. Cooler but sunny high elevations can produce almost as much electricity, as hotter locations can sometimes get too hot for the collectors.
Winter Park joining Fraser to crimp wasteful shopping bags
WINTER PARK, Colo. – Winter Park had decided it will join the adjacent town of Fraser in adopting a 20 cent single-use bag fee. That fee in Fraser goes into effect April 1.
Grocery and other retail stores must charge 20 cents per single-use bag in an effort to encourage use of reusable bags. As with Fraser, Winter Park intends to exempt produce and some other bags.
Similar to the fee structure of Fraser, Winter Park's town government will keep a percentage of the fee for administrative purposes but also sustainability initiatives, while businesses will keep 40 percent of the revenue, reports the Sky Hi News.
One of the Winter Park councilors voted again the fee, arguing that it won't work in a place with many tourists. That, however, goes against the accumulating evidence in any number of other resort towns, including Telluride and other ski towns in Colorado. In Telluride, for example, lodges provide reusable cloth bags. Ditto for Aspen, Vail, and other towns. If it has been a problem, it hasn't been showing up in the local papers.
Winter Park Mayor Jimmy Lahrman said as much. He said Winter Park is already behind the curve. "I think it's a matter of how do we make it easy for people. I think once we've made it easy, we're going to find that we get compliance."
Breckenridge reviews how to regulate electric bicycles
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – Elected officials in Breckenridge this week were scheduled to take up how to regulate dock-less fleets of electric bicycles.
Breckenridge has an interest in seeing more people on bikes, including e-powered ones, instead of motoring around in cars. Cars create more congestion and they also pollute.
"We really want to see people get that last mile and reduce the need for a car," says Haley Littleton, the town's director of communications.
Last summer, 25 red, white and black electric bikes were introduced to the streets of Breckenridge in an e-bike share program. Littleton says it was particularly useful for people after the town buses ceased operation at 11 p.m.
But problems, including bike clutter and pedestrian impediments, were also apparent. There were also confusion about whether the e-bikes could be used on recreation paths.
Since then, Breckenridge has studied how Denver and other town and cities have dealt with dock-less bike programs. "We're trying to be proactive, to get a balance between regulation and increasing mobility," says Littleton.