With warmer weather and shorter winters, the ski industry is suffering.
“We’re long passed the time when you can drive a Prius and say, ‘I’m doing what I can on climate,’” said Auden Schendler, senior vice president of sustainability with Aspen Skiing Company, one of the oldest ski resorts in the country.
Schendler says with the planet warming due to greenhouse gas emissions, America has lost a month of winter since 1940, if you count winter as a day with frost. He predicts those numbers will get even worse, if the world doesn’t get a better grip on climate change.
"50% reduction in the season in certain locations by 2050 and 90% by end of century,” Schendler said. “If you loss the last half of March, because its suddenly super hot and people are playing golf, you’re going to go out of business.”
While these environmental challenges are impacting ski town economies across the country, scientists say warming weather is also hurting people who never even hit the slopes.
“Scientifically, changes have been happening really quickly and we’ve been able to see them intensify over the years, too,” said Twila Moon, deputy lead scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Her team’s research shows climate change has a trickle-down effect on some of our most important industries.
“It does influence agriculture,” Moon said. “It influences water run off which impacts our drinking water. So, drought and flood patterns are different.”
Also, it means a different way of operating for ski resorts.
“We used to be able to have more snow more reliably and now it’s more volatile,” said Jim MacInnes, CEO of Crystal Mountain Resort in Michigan.
MacInnes has had to adjust to changing climate during his 35 years in the ski industry. Today’s warmer weather causes his team to spend more money and more energy on making snow at times of winter when it used to still fall from the ski.
The dry-up has caused his Crystal Mountain to adjust operations and become more of a four-seasons resort.
“We do a lot of things in the spring, summer and fall that have helped to mitigate the winter climate change problem,” he said.
A former electric engineer, MacInnes is looking for ways to fix this worldwide problem.
“Just know that there are a lot of solutions shifting more of our energy use to electricity, clean electricity,” he said.
Back in the Rocky Mountains, Schendler supports scientific solutions but believes real changes on the ground level will only come through pressuring high-ranking government officials.
“This is a global systems problem, and we need systems solution,” he said. “Which means American government needs to lead.”