Climate Change on the Slopes – The Bates Student

Steve Fuller

The increase in artificial snow, partly due to climate change, is changing the way athletes around the world (and at Bates) ski. Here: Marat Washburn ’25 in an alpine ski race.

Climate change poses challenges to the ski industry, both locally and at larger events, even at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Experts say ski mountains are increasingly relying on artificial snow to get through the season.

“All the stations I’ve worked for barely kept up with New England weather requirements,” said Ethan Baker, a sophomore from Jackson, New Hampshire. Baker is a lifelong skier from New England and has worked as a ski patroller for the past six seasons.

He is currently patrolling Sunday River in Newry, Maine. “The unpredictable nature of long-term weather over the past decade has created more challenges for an industry where it is already difficult to make a profit,” he said.

Sunday River, just over an hour’s drive from Bates, claims to have “the world’s largest high-pressure snowmaking system » and spent millions of dollars on new snowmaking equipment. While necessary to maintain skiable conditions during unreliable weather, these systems negatively impact resorts, as well as the state as a whole.

“At the height of snowmaking operations in December and early January, the entire Central Maine Power system is affected,” Baker said. “And because ski areas cannot rely solely on natural snow to operate, the economic viability of skiing is in question.”

Kurt Simard, head coach of the alpine ski team, explained that snowmaking systems drive up lift prices as resorts struggle to cover the extra costs.

Simard said artificial snow masks the impacts of climate change on the slopes: “New England ski seasons have become longer with better conditions than 20 years ago. This is due to the improvement and efficiency of snowmaking technology, despite climate change.

Ryan Gordon, a hydrogeologist with the Maine Geological Survey, said Maine’s winter season has changed rapidly due to climate change.

“Since growing up in Orono in the early 90s, average winter temperatures have warmed at about twice the rate of average summer temperatures,” he said.

He explained that while Maine has seen more overall precipitation in recent years, the state records more rain than snow, which creates more frigid conditions. In addition, melting occurs earlier in the spring.

Gordon highlighted the impact these models will have on the ski season, especially in the backcountry and smaller mountains.

“Changes in Maine’s winter season will have negative ramifications for the ski culture in our region, especially away from major ski resorts that can mass produce their own snow,” he said.

While ski mountains have grappled with these issues since the late 20th century, the artificial snow debate has been in the news lately with its pivotal role in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

An item for New York times reported that for the first time ever, snow at the Winter Olympics was entirely man-made, with snowmaking operations beginning as early as November 2021. The energy and resources used to produce snow for the competitions drew attention attention to the sustainability of the Winter Games; the International Olympic Committee estimates that nearly 50 million gallons of water will be used to produce snow for the competitions, which began on February 4.

This use of water is particularly harmful in a place like Beijing, which has experienced record droughts over the past decade.

Not only is artificial snow an economic and environmental problem, but it also poses a security threat, according to a PBS article. Most winter athletes can easily feel the difference between natural snow and artificial snow. The article explained that while natural snow fell from the sky with particles forming in the classic hexagonal snowflake structure, artificial snow was made up of individual droplets of frozen water, which gave it a much harder and harder feel. icy for athletes.

This artificial snow can be beneficial for skiers and snowboarders, as it allows for faster speeds and tighter turns, but it also means the sport is more dangerous. Simard said the ideal snow condition is a mix of artificial and natural snow.

“Artificial snow tends to be drier and denser, almost like chalk dust,” he said. “Generally the best is a careful mix of natural snow and artificial snow. When you mix wet snow and it freezes, it’s better for racing.

While artificial snow can make conditions ideal for ski racers in Bates and beyond, Simard added that he has noticed more inconvenience caused by climate change in the form of adverse conditions and windy days. violent causing chairlift wedges on the mountain.

While artificial snow ensures consistent conditions for competitive and recreational skiers, it perpetuates the idea that we can ignore the effects of climate change by using technological solutions to create our ideal climate, which often ends up continuing the cycle. in a positive feedback loop. .

Both Gordon and Baker stressed the importance of climate action in saving skiing in New England and around the world. They said that by limiting the consumption and use of fossil fuels as well as supporting legislation to tackle the climate crisis, there could be a chance to save snowy winters and continue the ski industry. in a sustainable way.