Sustainability Column: The Fate of the Ski Industry

This ski season in Colorado has been one of the worst on record. As of January, snowpack was only 10 – 20 percent of average levels, causing ski resorts to scramble to still make a profit (Outside Online). So, it is no shock that ski resorts have been losing money left and right trying to compensate for the lack of natural snow. Now, of course, I am extremely disappointed at the lack of snow this year. It was sad to see the bare ground in Breckenridge over winter break when this time last year we had what seemed like infinite amounts of snow. But, compensating for a lack of snow due to climate change by pumping out man-made snow that emits massive amounts of carbon, is not the answer. 

This lack of snow has a direct impact on resorts like Vail Resorts which has lost money on ticket sales, as well as a 1.55 percent decrease in stock value over the past three months. But more importantly, the decrease of snow has a major impact on the local economy and workers. People who live in these areas have been devastated by the lack of snow because their jobs depend on it. I personally know many private ski instructors who have been forced to find second jobs due to receiving smaller paychecks from the lack of snow and the decreased demand for ski lessons. 

Now, given the major impact climate change is having on the ski industry through increased variability in snow levels, one would think ski industry would be trying to do all they can to limit their impact. But, that would be a wrong assumption. Companies like Vail Resorts have climate action plans with goals to produce zero net emissions by 2030, zero landfill waste by 2030 and zero operating impact on forests and habitats. But Vail and other ski companies are combating the lack of snow, due to climate change, by pumping out more and more man-made snow even though this is completely out of line with their “Epic Promise.”

Snowmaking is exacerbating the problem and, as NPR put it, is “just a Band-Aid, and one that actually aggravates the problem.” Snowmaking machinery uses a massive amount of energy and with 60 percent of Vail’s electricity coming from coal power plants, this energy is neither clean nor renewable. Thus, a vicious cycle has emerged, where less snow leads to carbon-emitting machines to produce more snow, which in turn accelerates climate change. While ski resorts are neither the largest energy users nor the biggest carbon emitters, these companies should be at the forefront of advocating for renewable energies and better land stewardship to protect the snow and natural beauty of the environment.  

As an avid skier, I am disappointed by the lack of snow, but also equally disheartened by using man-made snow which hurts our environment. We need to be patient and understand the variability in snowfall due to climate change. We need to take action and demand ski resorts and large organizations to cut their emissions, not pump out more to increase profits. We need to keep supporting these local communities to ensure the job security of locals who need snow to survive. On a larger level, we need to advocate for local, state and nationwide governments to mitigate climate change and help those who are being impacted by climate change currently and those who will be impacted in the future.

Contact Delaney Pals at [email protected].