What Skiers Can Do For Climate Change

One Saturday this past winter, the Mountain View Room in Sugarbush’s Gate House Lodge was packed with a crowd of outdoor enthusiasts.

They were all skiers but they had gathered that evening to talk about something else: an existential threat to the sport, climate change, a topic that Sugarbush Resort President Win Smith had covered recently in testimony and this op-ed, “Getting Ahead of the Climate Curve.”

Smith stood at the front of the room and moderated a discussion among four experts in the field: David Perry, Executive Vice President of Sustainability and Special Projects, Alterra Mountain Company; Heather Furman, Vermont State Director, The Nature Conservancy; Cameron Wake, PhD, University of New Hampshire Professor and Climate Scientist; and Aaron Rice, Ski-Touring World Record Holder and Protect Our Winters athlete.

They covered a broad spectrum, with experts sharing data on the current effects of climate change. “The future climate is literally in our hands” said Wake. He went on to say that his 30 years of study on the climate can be boiled down into the following words: “It’s real. It’s us. Scientists agree. It’s bad. We can fix it.” He shared data showing that winters are warming at a rate of 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, per decade, over the last 50 years.

Furman drew attention to what she called an “abundance crisis” in wildlife, citing that there are three million fewer birds in the sky since 1970. She added that currently “humans and their livestock make up 96% of the biomass on earth, while wildlife makes up only 4%”.

The Nature Conservancy is seeing a “species movement” where animals are moving 11 miles further north each decade, as well as a “spike in disease”, noting a tick disease that is killing the moose population in Vermont. Despite the daunting statistics, Furman had some good news to share: “nature sequesters and stores carbon”, adding that “healthy forests, wetlands and soils can provide 37% of the GHG reductions needed by 2030.”

And she cited a specific example of restored wetlands in Middlebury, Vermont that acted as a giant sponge during 2012’s Tropical Storm Irene, significantly reducing flooding in that area.

David Perry of Alterra shared his experience as former CEO of Aspen, where he tracked their winters shortening by one snowmaking day per year over the last 20 years, based on how many days the temperature dropped below freezing in a 24-hour period.  After trying wind turbines, solar panels, and other reduction strategies, Aspen approached nearby coal mines and proposed that they run the mine’s methane gases through generators to create energy to run the resort.

The byproduct of this was CO2, a much more environmentally-friendly gas than the methane the mines had been releasing in the air, “and the net benefit was three times our carbon footprint,” Perry shared.  He added that “this $5.6 million dollar investment actually created a positive return on investment.  . . It’s one example of, if we put our noses to the grindstone, even we as ski resort operators can do our part.”

After Smith cited examples of Sugarbush’s battles with climate change—from the $1 million repair of their snowmaking pond after Tropical Storm Irene to the recent burial of power lines on the upper mountain to prevent future storm damage—he turned the conversation to solutions. He shared some of Sugarbush’s solutions, and then asked the panelists to identify individual solutions, which included:

-Write letters (POW offers form letters) and make phone calls to your representatives in Congress—they still are not hearing from enough constituents

– Interrogate your investments and “fund the revolution” with ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investments

-Cast your vote

-Support businesses and organizations (like the Nature Conservancy and POW) that are working toward solutions

-Talk to your town and ask them what they are doing to support climate change (for example, does your town have a flood ordinance?)

For a complete video of the evening’s discussion, visit https://sugarbush.com/blog/sustainability/if-you-missed-our-climate-panel-watch-it-here/.

By Candice White.

Lisa Lynn

Editor of VT SKI + RIDE and Vermont Sports.