BOSTON (CBS) – Many people have a passion for winter sports. So WBZ-TV wanted to find out if the ski industry is concerned about all this talk about climate change and, if so, how it is adapting.
Several skiers and industry representatives talked about the subject during the Boston Ski & Snowboard Expo last month.
Interestingly the overwhelming, and rather surprising, response from skiers and snowboarders was that, over the last decade or two, they have seen a change that brings less snow. They also said the snow arrives later in the season.
However, the data does not back them up. It is true that the last five years have featured late-starting snows. But the previous five years produced robust early snows.
It’s all about the array of varying global factors which contributes to big swings in snowfall over the years. I believe that many people are only recalling the blow torch winters and resultant snow droughts of 2001-02, 2011-12 and 2015-16.
Despite that, stats reveal that many of the biggest snows have occurred over the past 25 years, i.e. Boston’s all-time record of 107.6″ in 1995-96 which was surpassed by 110.6″ in 2014-15. Over the northeastern United States, in the last 10 years there have been 25 major impact snowstorms compared to 5-7 during previous decades.
On a much broader scale, data reveals that there has been a very impressive increase in snow over the Northern Hemisphere. Five of the top six years have occurred since 2003.
Nevertheless, there is a growing concern about the long-term outlook for winter sports. Whatever is happening with the climate, the ski industry is doing its part to offset change using the latest technology.
Most of the resorts have become environmentally responsible by developing the use of alternative and sustainable energy sources.
Parker Riehle, President of Ski Vermont, says every resort in his state has replaced snow-making equipment with high efficiency, low energy usage snow guns.
Tom Meyers, Marketing Director of Wachusett Mountain, says a new state-of-the-art pumping facility was just installed for more efficient overnight snow-making.
Brian Fairbanks, owner and operator of Jiminy Peak, says his resort is one of the “greenest” 4-season destinations in the nation.
It was the first one in North America to install a wind turbine that produces 4.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually which offsets 7.1 million pounds of CO2 (greenhouse gas). The turbine combined with a 12-acre solar field and a co-generation facility makes the resort self-sufficient and one of the few ski resorts in the nation powered by 100% renewable energy.
Rob Megnin, vice president of Killington, says his resort is using “cow power.” Green Mountain Power Company and various farms linked up to develop cow power facilities to produce renewable energy. The process is quite simple in which cow manure is mixed with wash water from the milking machines and then pumped into anaerobic digesters.
The slurry flows through the digester for about 3 weeks at 100 degrees Fahrenheit which allows the bacteria to convert to biogas composed of 60 percent methane gas and 40 percent carbon dioxide.
The biogas is fed into a modified natural gas engine which drives an electric generator to produce electricity. The generated energy is fed onto the Green Mountain Power grid. Thousands of Green Mountain Power customers purchase this renewable energy at a 4 cents per kilowatt hour premium. Killington is one of the larger customers paying thousands of dollars per year to partner with Green Mountain Power to make the program a success. The energy powers its K-1 Express Gondola and the Peak Lodge.
There is a large investment by each farm to build a cow power facility, but the farms are compensated for their electric generation and in the long run increases their profitability so it is a win for all including the environment.
With the uncertainty of the future, in addition to embracing renewable energy, the ski resorts are diversifying to become year-round destinations. For example, John Santaniello, managing director of The Mount Washington Resort at Bretton Woods, says there is something for everyone for all seasons.
That includes zip lining to a canopy tour to riding ATVs to archery, mountain biking, scooter rentals, hiking and climbing to climbing walls to horse riding, river rafting, golf on two award-winning courses, tennis, alpine & nordic skiing, sleigh rides, tubing, etc.
Also, Shawn Owen, director of sales at Stowe, says they recently opened a new $100 milliom indoor facility which includes a movie theater, indoor rock climbing, restaurants and various programs for kids and adults.
The reality is that the future is truly uncertain. NOBODY can accurately predict what might be happening 10, 25, 50 or 100 years from now.
The climate has always been in a state of flux. Is it inevitable that the planet will warm in the short term, in the long term, or forever? Or is global cooling ahead?
It’s up in the air so to speak and the ski industry is getting geared up to be able to deal with almost anything. The ever-present bigger challenge is making people believe that there is good skiing when there is no sign of winter in their backyard.