Global warming could force the snow sports industry out of business by dramatically reducing the amount of snow and shortening the ski season to a mere two months, according to a new study.
Various researchers, scientists, resort officials and city leaders spoke Tuesday night about global warming and the jarring results of the $60,000 study to a packed house at Park City's Eccles Center.
The study painted a bleak picture for Utah, where the tourism industry relies on the winter ski and snowboarding season. By 2100, the ski season could extend only from Christmas to Presidents Day, under the best-case scenario. Even a small 4- to 5-degree warming could be disastrous for the resorts and winter.
"We only maintain snow under the low-emission scenario through midwinter. Remember, that's a 10- to 15-degree increase," said Brian Lazar of Stratus Consulting, which conducted the study with the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado in Boulder. "Under the high-emission scenario, we don't get snow."
The report used a snow-modeling computer program to estimate the climate changes and snow levels for 2030, 2075 and 2100 under three different emission scenarios. Lazar said global warming will even affect the quality of the snow, turning the current Utah powder into skiers' concrete.
"As we reduce the amount of greenhouse gases, we can reduce the effects that we see," he said. "The more we control emissions as a planet, the more snow we'll see."
There is still a "window of opportunity for all of us to help save our snow," said John Cumming, CEO of Powdr Corp., but action needs to be taken now in order to see change, he said.
Installing compact fluorescent light bulbs in homes, turning off lights and unplugging electronic devices when not in use, driving with cruise control, enrolling in paperless billing and using kitchen and bathroom vents sparingly were suggested as some of the things individuals can do to lower carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases that thicken the atmosphere and make the planet's surface hotter.
Mark Williams, a University of Colorado researcher, said those toxins act as a blanket and hold in the Earth's heat. A huge part of that climate change is because of humans' actions, he added.
"One thing to keep in mind is, when we emit CO2 (carbon dioxide), it stays in the atmosphere for 50 years. Regardless of what we do today, there's a 50-year lag time. If there's one message I want you guys to take home today, it's that 50-year lag time," Williams said. "That has a huge effect on the ski conditions."
And most of that warming is concentrated in the western United States, especially in the mountain areas, he said.
"To be honest, if in 100 years we don't have a ski resort, that's the least of our problems," said Brent Giles, director of operations at Park City Mountain Resort. "Global warming is big, and it's scary."
More than 1,000 people attended the town hall meeting, which began with a presentation on climate change by singer-songwriter Kathy Mattea. She was one of 50 entertainers trained by former Vice President Al Gore to speak about scientists' findings on global warming. Gore's global warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," screened at Park City's Sundance Film Festival last year.
Mattea displayed pictures and videos to the crowd that showed glaciers shrinking, mountaintops that no longer get snow and estimated sea-level elevations that will eventually cover huge chunks of China, India and Florida. She described those images as "haunting."
"What I've come to believe and relearn in my life is, each one of us has a lot of power as individuals," she said. "A lot of people say the Earth is so huge, how can we have an impact on it as humans? We can make a huge change."Funding for the study was provided by Park City Mountain Resort, Powdr Corporation and KPCW Radio. Additional funds were provided by Deer Valley, The Canyons and the Summit County Recreation, Parks and Arts Tax.