This past Sunday, my friends and I followed the Colorado College winter tradition: load the car with ski gear and head up to the mountains. However, as we drove, we couldn’t help but notice that only a sprinkling of light powder covered the ground. Coloradans are accustomed to having a solid snowpack by this time of year, however, when we arrived at Arapahoe Basin, we learned that our trail options were unusually limited despite the flakes that had fallen earlier that morning.
It is not uncommon for students to cite the snow, the skiing, and the mountains as primary reasons for why they love and attend CC. However, the hum of excitement about the ski season this year has been quieted by a lack of snowfall, leaving many students dissatisfied.
“Last winter and this winter so far are the worst ski seasons I can remember,” said Dylan Sondermann, a CC sophomore and Colorado Springs native.
In an article published by ThinkProgress, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said that last winter was the first time in thirty years the resort was not able to open the back bowls by Jan. 6 due to lack of snow. Ski resorts in other states are not faring much better.
“For the first time since the late 1800’s, it did not snow at all in Tahoe in December,” Katz added.
Unfortunately, the trend seems to be continuing this year.
As of Nov. 26, the snowpack was at just 57 percent of the mid-November average, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Last Wednesday, Aspen Highlands announced their plan to delay the season opening, which was scheduled for this Saturday, until they receive the required eight additional inches of natural snow. Monarch Mountain, which was scheduled to open Nov. 26, also has yet to open. Other resorts have only been able to open a handful of runs, relying heavily on man-made snow.
Nordic skiers are still waiting for their season to begin. On Dec. 1, the CC Nordic Club attended Tommelfest, an event with clinics and relays at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, only to find a snowless ground.
“The added difficulty in Nordic skiing is that, unlike alpine [skiing], resorts cannot make snow,” freshman club leader Kayla Fratt said. “Our club here is not competitive enough to justify driving to find sparse and low-quality snow, so we have to wait. For competitive skiers especially, waiting for snow can be difficult and frustrating.”
The National Weather Service reports that between Sept. 1 and Nov. 25, Colorado Springs had only received 0.9 inches of snow, while the average accumulation for that time period in previous years is 6.8 inches. This lack of snow has bigger implications than its effect on our weekend recreation, such as the increased threat of wildfires.
“It’s a serious situation that we’re in now,” Fire Prevention Technician Dawn Sanchez told KRDO.com. “Usually we get the moisture in the winter that bumps us up a little bit as far as fuel moisture, but we’re not getting that this year and if it continues to be dry, we’re going to be in a tough situation next year.”
These dry years are also “devastating in many ways to agriculture, municipalities, and riparian habitats,” said Walt Hecox, a CC environmental science professor.
Global climate change alters our planet, but also causes local changes such as shorter winters and warmer springs and falls.
According to the 2006 State of the Rockies Report Card, “winter sports dependent on snow, like downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling, are expected to decrease in popularity with warming because of worsened conditions, potentially becoming unviable as soon as 2050.”
When smaller ski areas that cannot afford to produce sufficient levels of man-made snow go out of business, large ski resorts will also lose their client base. “The ski industry may succumb to climate change and fold,” Aspen Ski Company CEO Patrick O’Donnell told State of the Rockies.
However, they will not fold without a fight: “Winter resorts for several decades have been seeking ‘insurance’ against late snowfall and ‘bad’ seasons by seeking water rights to make snow. This takes precious water out of streams and reservoirs to boost a very important industry in these states, but it does have consequences in lower flows and changes in distribution of water,” Hecox said.
In order to keep skiing, keep the environment healthy, and keep frost forming on our windowpanes, we have to drastically cut down on our carbon emissions. For the sake of the ski industry, the future generations of CC snow bunnies, and most of all, our planet, let’s do it.