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Biology, Sustainability

The future of snow sports

If you’ve been watching the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics you have likely heard about their use of artificial snow. The reality is that many places that once had pretty reliable snow conditions are suffering in the face of climate change. If I look around where I live, we had the best snow I think we’ve had in years and then freezing rain and above zero temperatures. Then -30 C and then back above freezing with more rain. After a few more cycles of this, we’re down to huge bare patches and vicious ice on the rest. So, the question is are snow sports a disappearing breed or do we use snowmaking to save them from extinction? In addition, if we do make changes and reduce our climate emissions, will it have any impact.

Scott et al (2020) examined ski areas in Central Canada (Ontario and Quebec) and North Eastern US. With a low greenhouse gas emission scenario, they predict that snow making can reduce the losses in the length of the ski season to around 12%. With high emissions, the seasons may be up to 22% shorter by mid-century and that is with the existence of snowmaking. By the end of the century high emission scenarios could reduce 171 ski areas to just 29 that are economically viable.

Fang, Scott, and Steiger (2021) found that ski areas in China could see shorter snow seasons by up to 65% in a low emission scenario and up to 79% in a high emission scenario. Snowmaking investments have the potential to reduce these impacts, but they can’t prevent them.

Berard-Chenu et al (2021) found that resorts in the French Alps that are experiencing greater climate change impacts are investing more in snowmaking equipment. Spandre et al (2019) determined that snowmaking might help protect the ski industry in the French Alps through a 2° C global temperature increase. However, if the warming goes beyond 3°C then snowmaking won’t be enough.

Climate change is a huge risk within the winter sports world. As a result, it is best for the industry and for outdoor enthusiasts to take action now in order to reduce climate change and maintain a viable industry.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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