Opinion: Ski Industry Leaders Complicit In Climate Change Denial

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Featured Image: Fichtelberg mountain in Oberwiesenthal, Germany. Credit New York Times/Jan Woitas/European Pressphoto Agency

With the elections over many people are wondering how the results will affect environmental policy in America.

Powder Magazine recently published an article by Porter Fox titled “Campaign Donations Link Ski Industry Leaders to Climate Change Deniers”. In it, Fox outlines how the big players in the ski industry are donating huge amounts of money to political leaders that deny climate change and block climate change legislation.

The science on climate change is in. I won’t go into the extensive research, the proven science and the widespread support of the reality of climate change. It’s real, it’s here today and it’s been affecting our world and our ski areas for decades. For an in-depth look at the reality of the effects of climate change on the ski areas of America take a look at Powder Magazine’s feature by Porter Fox, Deep, How climate change is affecting our mountain communities. For more information on the frightening reality of climate change, Google it.

The bottom line is this: our ski areas are in danger. Many of them have already been or will be shuttered for lack of snow in our lifetimes. All of the independent operators I’ve spoken with are experiencing the realities of less snow. Advocacy organizations like Mountain Rider’s Alliance and POW (Protect Our Winters) list climate change as the number one issue facing ski areas today.

It has been a surprise to see the winter sports community, as one of the first populations to witness effects of climate change in its own backyard, not reacting more vigorously and swiftly to reverse the fate we are writing for ourselves. – Porter Fox, The End of Snow – New York Times

So, why are the big players in the ski industry not only staying silent about climate change, but actively working against legislation that could turn things around?

Geraldine Link, the Director of Public Policy of the National Ski Areas Association, submitted a rebuttal of Mr Fox’s article to Powder Magazine. Here is a link to the letter in it’s entirety. In it, the NSAA top policy official insults Porter Fox and accuses him of being naive to the workings of Washington.

In this writer’s opinion, NSAA and Ms Link are naive to the motives of big business. To imagine that the same politicians that are being paid off by fossil fuel and blocking climate change initiatives at the federal level will work against climate change on the local level is naive at best.  

Link remembers the NSAA 2013 convention at which one of the few Republican leaders on climate change Bob Inglis stated “you Birkenstock-wearing Democrats are not going to be the ones who solve climate–It will be Republicans who solve climate change”. Perhaps Mr Inglis is right, but so far no solutions have been presented. The Republicans that Ms Link defends in her letter have been instrumental in defeating climate change initiatives and protecting fossil fuel companies on a federal level. On a local level, these leaders have ensured that the managers of the largest ski resorts in America have access to the land, the resources and the regulation, or lack thereof, to remain profitable in spite of record droughts and declining snow levels.

Fighting Climate Change Or Embracing It?

We fear that the proposed oversized village with its adverse impacts would forever change “raw” Squaw into a congested Disney-esque experience. – Friends of Squaw Valley

Mega managers are already repurposing their properties to survive in Winters without snow. Ms Link admits that the ski industry support of climate deniers is in part to ensure their continued profitability when the snow dries up. She states: “Four-season activities and water rights protections are two critical components of climate adaptation for the ski industry.” It sounds like the ski industry is ready to convert your beloved ski resort into a water park.

KSL Capital Investments owns Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows near Lake Tahoe, CA, and is planning just that. After combining Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in 2011 KSL has proposed a massive expansion project that is the largest ever proposed on the Sierra Nevada. It will mean the rezoning of pristine Shirley Canyon to build timeshares as well as “A 90,000 square foot 96’ tall indoor waterpark with waterslides, indoor water skiing, fake rivers, arcades and a 30 lane bowling complex.” Who needs snow with all of these activities?

In a nearly 200 page proposal to Placer County, renewable energy gets hardly a mention. It is stated once that “Subject to feasibility, renewable energy sources could include: Wind, Solar, Water, and Others”.  KSL has donated $422,200 to pro fossil fuel politicians and candidates in 2016 alone. The Placer County Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday, November 15th to consider approval of the project.

Snow? We Don’t Need No Stinking Snow

The ability of the mega resorts to survive without snow is evident. In 2015 Vail Resorts Inc posted a decline in visitors, yet a significant increase in revenue of $1.4 billion. This while the 2014/2015 season ended with snowpack in the southwest at 50 to 60 percent of median, the 2014/2015 season being the worst Winter on record in California, declining snowfall in Colorado and industry wide skier visits at their 2nd lowest in 15 seasons.

These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.”– John Muir”

In a statement to the Denver Post, Greg Ralph, Vice President of marketing and sales at Purgatory makes it clear that the big resorts are equipped to deal with less and less snow: “It wasn’t a bad year, considering how bad the snow was”, “The area certainly performed better than nature.”

In contrast to the mega resorts, Mt Abram is a small ski area near Bethel, Maine with only 6% of the skiable area of Squaw Valley, 5% of the annual skier visits and only a tiny fraction of the capital resources of mega manager KSL. In 2013 Mt Abram was able to obtain a USDA grant for the installation of an 803 panel solar array that today is providing up to 70% of their energy use. Mt Abram has also led the charge in sustainable practices by becoming the first ski area in North America to install Nivis® Ecostick snowmaking technology. According to their website, “These guns will cut air consumption by 50% and allow a carbon off set of 402,804 pounds.” “For this process there is no electrical energy needed.”

If Mt Abram and it’s very limited resources can find it “feasible” to accomplish these things, mega managers like KSL, Vail Resorts, Intrawest, Boyne and others, with their vast resources, could accomplish much more.

But, unlike capital investment firms with diverse portfolios of spa resorts and golf clubs, a small resort like Mt Abram won’t fare so well without mother nature’s white stuff.

What’s Good For The Goose?

Geraldine Link goes on to justify the ski industry’s unwillingness to take a tough stance on climate change by blaming others. She points to Starbuck’s, Whole Foods, Patagonia and even Powder Magazine as examples of corporations that support climate initiatives on one hand and support climate change deniers on the other. In today’s political environment the excuse of “hey, they are doing it too” is widespread and has no place in the ski industry whose very survival depends on the reversal of climate change.

While the NSAA and Ms Link pay lip service to climate advocacy, the actions and the financial donations of the industry leaders they represent suggest a different agenda.

We should be thanking these members of Congress, not attacking them. – Geraldine Link, NSAA

Respect and collaboration are admirable goals and can be achieved without dumping financial resources into the coffers of those whose policies will destroy the mountain playgrounds we all love.  When you get down to reality, the NSAA and the mega resort managers in the ski industry are supporting and collaborating with climate change deniers to ensure their bottom line doesn’t dry up with the snow. Luckily for the NSAA, the recreation areas that support them will survive in the form of mega mountain resort theme parks.

The take-away here is obvious. The mega resort operators in the ski industry are more concerned with their ability to profit from the changing climate then they are with reversing it, all the while ensuring mega profits for as long as the snow lasts.

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Resources:

Friends of Squaw Valley:  http://friendsofsv.org
Sierra Watch:  http://www.sierrawatch.org/updates/
Who Owns Which Resorts:
http://www.nsaa.org/press/industry-stats/industry-stats-pages/who-owns-which-mountain-resorts/
Keep Squaw True: http://keepsquawtrue.org/
Placer County Final Plan: https://www.placer.ca.gov/departments/communitydevelopment/planning/villageatsquawvalleyspecificplan

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