Climate Change and the Winter Sports Industry

Nomads on the Road sat down with three leading winter sports industry figures, Chris Steinkamp from Protect Our Winters, Auden Schendler from the Aspen Ski Co and Steve Jones from Teton Gravity Research to discuss what can be done to stop climate change and preserve our way of life.

The future of the winter sports industry is at risk from climate change. Climate change is already affecting our natural playgrounds, just take a look at Europe, the unpredictable nature of European winters has seen many resorts receive more snow in December than they did in the whole of last season, while others have closed completely. The challenge for the winter sports industry is to show they can be leaders in combating climate change.

In the USA, snow-sports is estimated to contribute around $67 billion each year to the US economy and supports over 600,000 jobs. This means fighting to preserve mountain towns and our ‘playgrounds’ is a no-brainer for the winter sports industry.

Protect Our Winters Interview

Protect Our WintersChris Steinkamp, Director of Protect Our Winters – the Jeremy Jones climate change initiative, is the first in this special three-part series.

“Jeremy had this idea back in 2007 because he had travelled all over the world and seen places change from year to year. Glaciers change, the snowpack was different, the weather was different and literally within the 12 month time period from when he had been there before it had changed drastically,” says Chris.

Jeremy looked around and didn’t see anyone from the winter sports community stepping up to address the issue, Chris continues.

“We should be one of the very first groups that should be doing something about it, so there was really this void of action being taken against climate change by the winter sports community so he (Jeremy) just decided it was time for someone to do something and he came up with the idea,” he said.

Protect Our Winters (POW) strongly believe the winter sports community should be the first to campaign against climate change. Many of us, and this is a purely selfish and self-serving point for me, who enjoy living in the mountains will suffer. Whether it is through lack of snow, or visitor numbers dropping resulting in fewer jobs, climate change will affect the winter sports industry.

“You know cos we’re not just talking about lost powder days but people in places like Aspen and Vermont, and where you are in Fernie, as climate change moves forwards it’s not just winter powder days it’s jobs, it’s tourism, it’s tax revenue, there are billions and billions of dollars which are made from the winter sports community. It’s a major economic issue too.”

Abandoned ski resort Bolivia Chacaltaya

The glacier on Chacaltaya served as Bolivia’s only ski resort. Copyright @wili-hybrid

NOTR: How can we balance the goal of protecting our winters and also preserving our winter sports industry?

POW: “You know no-one is perfect, we are all hypocrites. We all take planes, we all own cars and we all live in homes which are not sustainable. We shouldn’t really get too hung up on those things cos we can always decrease our carbon footprint and trim back wherever we possibly can.

“Taking fewer flights, buy a hybrid car, carpool – all those things to decrease our individual carbon footprint. But I think the situation has got so important that the bigger solutions are going to have to come from changes at mid to federal level and by states and government stepping up and changing policy.

“We can always change what we do on a personal level and really kind of unite on that level. We must really try and unite together and start voicing our desire at the Federal level for clean energy. And participating in our elections – we have to vote for people who represent the issues that we want. We need to send letters to our officials letting them know that clean energy is important and letting them know how much revenue and how jobs are going to be lost if this thing continues the way it is.

“We gotta fight it on two fronts, we gotta decrease our individual footprint but we always have to step up and be vocal at a federal level.”

NOTR: Who else in the winter sports industry, apart from Jeremy Jones, is ‘stepping up’?

POW: “Gretchen Bleiler does a huge amount of work. Chris Davenport is doing an amazing amount of work. It’s really a group of athletes which are doing the work.

“Auden Schendler at the Aspen Ski Company – does some really amazing work. So while athletes are super visible, people like Auden have done just amazing amounts of work at Aspen. It’s not just about Aspen decreasing their carbon footprint by the lifts and the snowcats and that kinda thing. He has testified in front of Congress on Capitol Hill. He really sees things by the bigger picture.”

NOTR: How can the winter sports industry say they support the fight against climate change and then make videos which use helis and snowmobiles?

POW:“We do partner with TGR and they fly helis all winter long, it would be great if they decided to cut back on that. TGR offset their carbon footprint so all the time they are in their helis they are buying renewable energy to offset it. You know it doesn’t solve it but helps.

Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

If the glacier in Banff National Park disappears – what hope for the winter sports industry in Canada? The photo appears courtesy of Gary Arndt – Everything Everywhere.

“The North Face sponsor films which shoot with helis but they are doing so much other work on the climate change front. I guess when you look at the big picture maybe the good outweighs the bad.

“Across the industry, I think a lot of people are thinking about how they are going to access the backcountry more responsibly. You see groups like the Sherpas up in the Rocky Mountains and other film companies are really starting to think about access and how they can change their impact to make their films richer.”

“The earth is getting warmer and we have to do something about it.”

Snowboarding has seen a huge jump in the number of split boards sold, says Chris, something he believes is proof that the whole segment is growing and leading people to see the environmental benefit.

“When companies such as Burton are starting to make split boards I think you know it’s projected to be pretty big. So that’s a big deal,” contends Chris.

Carbon offsetting is often seen as a way to reduce a company’s or even an individual’s carbon footprint. A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere.

“The earth is getting warmer and we have to do something about it, says Chris. “Offset is fuzzy maths when you see brands running on 100 percent renewable it’s kinda bullshit.”

NOTR: What can the ski industry do then?

POW: “A lot of resorts if they really want to do that (run on 100 percent renewable energy) they can buy their wind farms and they can install their own solar panels. The technology is there, it’s just a matter of doing it.

“There are resorts back East in Vermont which has installed their own wind turbines.”

NOTR: What other resorts are pushing for action on climate change?

POW: “Aspen, at some point soon, will be 100 percent renewable by their own force. Which is the purest way to do it.

“Resorts are huge, energy offsetting is one thing but think about how many people come to those resorts and how many people’s habits you have to try and change? 600,000 come through the gates at Aspen each season – how can we impact each and every one of those in a different way?

“Aspen generates hundreds of thousands of dollars for the state of Colorado each year in tax revenue how can we pressure the Governor to do the right thing?

“Walmart is changing their partner’s behaviour in a huge way. Walmart is changing the way factories in China are being run. Because of their purchasing power.

“If Walmart, the big monster that they are, can harness their size in a positive way it does some good. Whether it outweighs the bad who knows but they are doing a lot of good for the environment.

NOTR: What next for Protect Our Winters?

POW: “There are so many things we can do, it’s just a matter of picking out what can be most effective in the short term. There are 21 million people in the US who enjoy winter sports, from skiers to snowboarders to ice-climbers to cross-country skiers, there are 21 million people and we have to figure out a way to reach a decent percentage of those 21 million to have a decent effect on policy.”

Thanks to Chris Steinkamp and Protect Our Winters for their time and assistance in putting together this interview. Also thanks to Gary Arndt from Everything Everywhere for use of his Banff National Park photograph.

Protect Our Winters



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