If you’ve been at the snow in Australia this year you’ll already know that July 2013 was one of the worst for snowfalls on record. Even snowmaking was put on hold when Mt Hotham experienced a record six straight July days above zero degrees. Yes, heavier snow falls this August has allowed winter to redeem herself with powder days all this week but the early ski season damage had been done.
Now I am no expert on global warming, I get my weather forecast by looking out the window, but there is no doubt with increasingly erratic winters that the global ski industry is in environmental trouble.
Pro Snowboarder Jeremy Jones’ Protect Our Winters organization uniting ski resorts of North America reports that spring now arrives two weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago in Lake Tahoe and that by the year 2039, the ski resorts of the North East in the USA will experience ski seasons of less than a hundred days.
The Aspen Global Change Institute reported in 2006 that by 2100 it is unlikely that a winter snowpack will persists at the base area and that the length of the snow season will be anything from four to ten weeks shorter than today.
This is not boding well for skiers and boarders of the future looking for snow holiday destinations. But then it is far worse for the polar bears that are dying of starvation.
In Australia the Climatic Change Report August 2013 assessment of the potential impact of climate change on the ski industry in New Zealand and Australia predicted that Australian resorts will experience between 57 and 78 per cent of the current maximum snow depth and that will reduce to 21 to 29 percent come 2090.
New Zealand’s snow days will reduce from 125 days of above 30-centimetre base, to 52 to 110 days in 2090. By that time Australia will have anything from zero to 75 skiable days each winter.
That’s a rather hefty dent on a $67 billion industry in North America and a billion-dollar industry in Australia.
The Victorian Alpine Resorts 2020 Strategy, along with the Australian Keep Winters Cool Initiative have both recognised climate change as a major threat to the future of skiing in our country and have ear marked lower altitude resorts Lake Mountain and Mount Baw Baw as the most vulnerable.
The plan is to implement a four-season tourism strategy at the vulnerable resorts and that adaptive strategies to manage impact will be implemented by other resorts as necessary. Any skier or boarder who attempted to ski off piste on exposed rock and dirt in Australia in once abundant July will say those strategies are necessary now.
Snowmaking is the key, so long as temperatures remain low enough to do so. Mt Buller has a $3.43 million development to utilise treated wastewater for snowmaking, with up to two million litres of wastewater recycled each day.
All snowmaking at Hotham is also run on recycled water and water from Rocky Valley Lake used for snowmaking at Falls Creek is returned to the lake due to a closed loop snowmaking operation. Falls Creek also uses hydroelectricity to power chairlifts and snowmaking.
Perisher’s massive $22 million investment in the last seven years has ensured that snowmaking is now nine times more energy efficient than previous years. Across the valley in Thredbo, the resort committed to diesel and unleaded petrol for vehicle use and planted over 2000 trees and shrubs around the village and also offset the emissions generated by their grooming and vehicle fleets.
But is this all going to be enough to sustain our beloved ski resorts? Clearly human desire for technology got the snow industry in this pickle in the first place, but some feel it may be what saves us.
“I think the future is bright because technology is improving” says Richard Phillips from Perisher.
“Never has the snow product been as consistent and good in Australia because of snow farming, snow grooming and summer slope work.
Snowmaking now means that we can spread the snow far and wide and we can make quantities of snow when it’s important and freshen up natural snow falls with dry man-made powder, when ten years ago it was about just making whatever you could to get snow on the ground.”
Ten years ago the snow depth chart at Spencers Creek on August 1 was almost a metre more than it is this season, despite a record snow fall in 2012. Go figure, literally.
Read article at the Sydney Morning Herald