Guest editorial: Climate change threatens Utah’s competitive winter athletes
Utah is taking the first steps to get its facilities Olympic-ready, in preparation for a potential 2030 bid. But will our winter be up to the task? Americans were disappointed to see the United States finish in fifth place at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics with 23 medals, the lowest medal count this century. Park City, which is home to the Center of Excellence — U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s national training and education facility — barely reached its projected 143 days open this year. With a low snowfall of 167 inches,
Park City reached less than half of last year’s season of 404 inches and was unable to hold training until its closing day, eliminating the opportunity for quality training for athletes.
As elite ski racers competing across the nation, we feel the effects and setbacks of global warming on our ski careers the most. The lack of snow does not affect top-tier athletes, like Olympic gold medalists Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, who have the resources to chase snow around the globe. Younger athletes suffer most because we do not have the necessary conditions locally to develop our skills.
Winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, meaning more winter precipitation will come in the form of rain instead of snow. This not only damages local talent but will end up hurting Utah’s environment. The NRDC indicates that
Park City will lose all mountain snowpack by 2100.
If we continue to ignore the problem, by the end of the century there will be no possibility for Utah to come close to producing Olympians.
When ski racing athletes turn 16, they enter the open category to compete against athletes around the world ranging from 16-35 years old. With the new pressure of a world ranking and a huge age range, young athletes are at a disadvantage because of global warming.
As sixteen year olds, the insane lack of snow makes it difficult to compete against athletes who had the benefits of a longer training season for years. Global warming is affecting all athletes across the US, but here in Utah, we feel the effects much stronger than other states. When our team traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to compete in our first race of the season, we had only 7 days on snow in the past four months — three times less than athletes competing out of Colorado and Idaho.
In the United States, warm weather is predicted to cut the length of ski and snowboard seasons in half by 2050. By 2090, the current length of ski and snowboard seasons will be reduced by 80%. Although Utah holds one of the largest training facilities for producing Winter Olympic athletes in the country, the shocking results in this year’s Winter Olympics paired with the limited ability to train makes athletes question whether medals are a possibility for the future.
Utahns need to take this topic seriously. Utah is considering making another bid for the 2030 Winter Olympic Games to be in Salt Lake City, but global warming may render Utah unable to host an Olympic Games ever again. Athletes from across the country travel to Utah to ski, but we will not be able to provide skiable terrain if there is no snow to ski on. Despite our proud claim of having the “greatest snow on earth,” we may start seeing skiers leave for whiter pastures. If Utah wants to retain its leadership position as a home and training ground for elite winter athletes who will bring the state recognition by competing on the world stage, we need seriously invest in our climate.
Elena Zipp and Lucy Neill are 16-year-old girls who moved from New York City and Sydney, Australia, to ski race at Rowmark Ski Academy in Salt Lake City. They live in Park City.