Hot Glisse of Global Warming – Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | June 25, 2007      

Summer skiing.
Will the future of summer skiing be more snow, or more rocks?

Backcountry skiing involves repetitive motion that can wear on your joints, so a few months off during summer may improve your health. But if your bod is holding up you don’t have to quit.

You can probably find the most options for summer glisse up in the Northwest, covered in detail at Turns All Year. Other popular and somewhat accessible options are Mount Shasta as well as high altitude snow patches in most of the west’s mountains. And least we lower-48ers forget, the high glaciated peaks of Canada and Alaska also provide skiable snow every month of the year.

Which brings us to hotly burning question number one: What influence will global warming have on summer skiing? I’d think marginal snow patches will become much smaller and the snow line will be slightly higher on peaks such as Shasta. But I doubt we’ll entirely lose summer skiing, since high altitude climate has plenty of cushion in terms of a low enough average temperature to maintain summer snow patches. More, any observant mountain person knows that summer snow is as dependant on having a good winter accumulation as it is on melting rates.

So, the other flaming question: Will global warming significantly change precipitation? Much of what I’ve read says that scientists who are perfectly willing to predict the future in terms of average temperature are hesitant to predict (in more than generalizations)how much change we’ll have in precipitation. Indeed, it’s known that warmer air can produce more snowfall during winter months, thus it could go either way…

Which leads to another global warming news item. Here in Western Colorado we have a few low altitude ski resorts. I believe the viability of such resorts is in question due to our warming climate, but does that mean they should back off from investing money and expanding their scope? Apparently not.

Nearly 100% of climate change journalism is pessimistic to an almost pathological level (hello nihilism), but a recent article in the Aspen Daily News actually had the guts to at least ask the question, “Global warming good for Colorado skiing?”

While the article indeed reflects confusion as to what precip changes might happen in Colorado, It is clear about one thing: When it comes to skiing in a warmer climate, elevation is key.

Near here in west central Colorado, Sunlight Mountain Resort has a base elevation of 7,885 feet and only rises to 9,895 feet. That’s a base about 100 feet lower than Aspen Mountain’s, and with a much lower summit. The area is known as a winter powder stash with slow lifts, but also known for its short season due to a thinner snowpack and quick melt-off in late winter and spring.

Sunlight was recently purchased, and the buyer is poised to sink major money into ski lifts, snow making, and a base real estate project. It’s easy to see they plan on making money from real estate, and one has to think they realize their ski season may only be limited to a few months a year. (Unless they are global warming deniers, which I doubt.) Snow making will help, but you can only make snow in cold air, and covering a whole mountain with enough snow to tide you through a long hot March/April is an immense project of questionable worth.

Thus, one has to conclude that Sunlight was purchased to create a year-around mountain resort which will de-emphasise skiing and ramp up the overall mountain lifestyle as a sales tool. Not entirely a bad thing, as we do love the mountain lifestyle. But I’m sad that more entrepreneurs are not investing in creating high altitude ski resorts that can easily cope with global warming.

The model for such resorts would be Arapahoe Basin, Colorado’s high altitude ski area that’s usually the first in the state to open and last to close (base 10,780 feet, summit 13,050 feet!). Arapahoe was bought in 1997 by Dundee Realty, an outfit that apparently sees the potential in high altitude skiing and has been making significant improvements to the resort. Sure, Dundee might be planning on the usual real estate moves, but such will be supported by more than a golf course since they’re working with a viable high-altitude ski resort that can easily cope with warmer weather.

Do you blog readers think global warming will destroy skiing? Will it eliminate summer skiing? Will climate change bring more precipitation to the mountains of the North American West? Comments on.


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18 Responses to “Hot Glisse of Global Warming – Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. Andrew L June 25th, 2007 8:05 am

    Hey Lou,

    I link on my site to a National Geo Article on the vanishing ice across the world. You mention that high-altitude areas would seem to be protected from Global Warming’s effects.

    The NGM article begins by mentioning the world’s highest ski area, Chacaltaya, at 17,250 feet in the Bolivian Andes. Skiing at Chacaltaya has essentially vanished, due to an alarming phenominon involving accelerating glacier melt.

    If you haven’t read the article, check it out. We may be in for a lot more changes (climate-wise) than we’ve been expecting.

  2. FrameNZ June 25th, 2007 9:17 am

    Not really answering your questions, but I see opportunities, if snow levels don’t materialise in the future to turn low level resorts into touring centres. That is forget about all the fancy restaurants, condo’s and expensive pipe shapers, maybe keep a lift or two, keep a few patrollers and do a bit of avalanche control and then pick up on the trend for touring and off piste skiing. That is say to people new to touring our season may be a bit short but in a somewhat controlled environment close to being true backcountry come and get into it. Keep a lift and charge if people don’t want to hike up but basically remove all the extra’s and bring down the costs. No ski school, no fancy resaurants, just keep a pub, somewhere you can warm up and cook a burger on a barbeque and some kind of cheap accomodation. Somewhat like the club fields in New Zealand and aimed at the AT skier. Then aim for the mountain bikers and hikers in the summer. It could be run as a club or a business, only time will tell.

  3. Lou June 25th, 2007 10:35 am

    Andrew, I didn’t say that high altitude would protect against all effects, just that it would mitigate the effect on skiing, something that logic dictates. If all skiing depended on glaciers than indeed, the conclusion would be different.

    As for Chacaltaya, that is indeed summer skiing based on what sounds more like a permanent snowfield than a glacier, and it indeed appears to have succumbed. Though if it’s a snowfield it could reappear in one season so I’d not totally give up on it.

  4. AJ B June 25th, 2007 2:58 pm

    Hi Lou,

    Thanks for the time and effort you put into your website!

    Recently I came across a magazine with some interesting research by Austrian scientist Josef Goldberger. In Europe we see headlines “No more skiing in the Alps in twenty years”. But according to Goldberger we might be heading for a new ice age in NW Europe due to a shift in the currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Even in a scenario with higher temperatures he predicts more rain and snow.

    He found a link between the so called NAO-index (I’m no climatologist but this apparantly is an index for pressure differences on the Northern Atlantic) and snowfall in a cycle of 2-3 years between high and low snowfall. If October is wet and cold a lot of snow can be expected the entire winter (his research focused on Austria in particular).

    What does this mean?

    We probably won’t be seeing a lot of skis on ebay “due to a lack of snow” in the near future.

    The climate is dynamic, not static. Always was, always will be.

  5. Cory Cleveland June 25th, 2007 4:51 pm

    Another unmentioned consequence of global warming (that all spring BC riders can see with our own eyes) is an increase in the transport and deposition of dust in our snowpack.

    While most ski resorts may close well before the buried dust layers emerge, dealing with the dirt (and the effects of a dark surface on our spring snow) is something else we will all just have to learn to live with…I guess.

    Remember the huge dust event last February? We did a little “dirt removal” experiment last spring to assess the effects of that dust on snowmelt dynamics.

    Photos Here

    The results were striking. The dusty snow melted out much more quickly, and made for a much icier (read: not as fun to ride) snow surface.

    It may not destroy the spring skiing, but it makes it more challenging, and it surely shortens the season.

  6. Jay Coster June 25th, 2007 6:13 pm
  7. Andrew L June 25th, 2007 9:10 pm

    Re: the ‘Global Warming Test’:

    Cigarette companies used to play this game to counter claims that smoking caused lung cancer.

    Creating doubt and confusion in the minds of a gullible public translates directly into billions of dollars of profits. Fun stuff.

  8. Mark June 26th, 2007 6:49 am

    I don’t know if global warming will destroy skiing, but it may make it tougher for some places. Snowmaking appears to have advanced a lot. I never cared until moving to PA. Accessible skiing requires it here. Will global warming mean snowmakers pop up in places that never needed them? Montana, where I’ve done most of my skiing, never really needed them, but who knows what the future will hold? Andrew–I smoke unfiltered Camels even on big ski trips. Don’t mind if I smoke in the Sierra while we tick off peaks do you? (kidding)

  9. ian June 26th, 2007 8:52 am

    Great blog here – i’m surprised i only just found it now. as for the global warming issue affecting skiing, i tend to fall on the idea that snow won’t disappear, it will just shift away from previously snowy areas. in the case of British Columbia, Whistler had a huge dump this year, but generally tends to be wetter. Even crazier, Silver Star just had 15cm come from nowhere this past weekend. Go figure.

  10. Brandt June 26th, 2007 11:28 am

    To Andrew L:

    Seems a bit like name calling to me, the refuge of people with no facts. Please expand for me, as I am interested in knowing if there’s something wrong with the global warming knowledge test specifically, and not being a part of the gullible public in general. I’ve noticed that creating doubt and confusion in the minds of a gullible public is a tactic applied by many people with agendas, capitalists and communists alike.

  11. Scott B June 26th, 2007 2:19 pm

    It is getting warmer where I live. I don’t like it. I might move North.

    What % of the warming is occuring from man made sources vs natural causes can be, should be, and will be studied by climatologiests. They might not get it 100% correct, but the more time and effort they spend the better the understanding will be. I keep hearing people making statements along the lines that the climate is too complex for us to understand — that is nonsense.

    Even natural causes of global warming could prove to be detrimental to us; past climate changes have been disastrous to the larger animals living at the time.

    The problem for us, the general public, is that it is impossible to get the strait scoop on the science and the potential issues surrounding the science. Propoganda reigns supreme.

  12. Lou June 26th, 2007 2:55 pm

    What’s been weird of late is that consensus is indeed that the climate is warming, but when one brings up concepts like “prepare for it,” you get shouted down as a denier. When all you’re denying is that we’ll be able to halt it — which is somewhat of a valid question to say the least (e.g., China just surpassed US as world’s biggest carbon emitter). It’s like there is a cognitive disconnect.

    My theory is that many people not only want us to believe global warming is happening, but they also want us to believe we can stop it by giving them political power. Or, they view it as a gift that will force us to live more ecologically; the enviro magic-bullet if you will. Thus, they don’t like hearing that we should perhaps plan on living with it, or that we think it might only be partially mankind caused.

    In all, quite interesting.

  13. Eric Steig June 26th, 2007 4:32 pm


    I doubt it is quite as conspirational as you suggest, though there is no doubt that many of the big political players that claim to be doing something (or that something is do-able) about global warming are thinking more about power and less about actually making a difference. That said, I think we *will* do something eventually, as the consequences of not doing anything become clearer. Moreover, I think that those who start taking it seriously sooner will be in a rather good economic position, because they’ll be doing thing like selling high-efficiency lights to the rest of us (or to other countries).

    As for snow, you are insightful as usual. There’s no doubt that in the short term — and for your and my lifetime — there’ll be more snow in some places, less in others. Unfortunately, I think those of us on the wet coast will lose out quite a bit. Many more rainy days at Whistler or Baker in winter. That said, we may still have bigger snowpacks and spring skiing might just last a little longer into summer. Having said *that* I just got back from a disappointing day on the Squak glacier side of Baker — too *much* snow in the woods made for a very short ski day.

  14. Andrew L June 28th, 2007 7:38 am


    I get deeply offended by dishonesty regarding this issue, and sometimes my emotions get the best of me.

    Rather than responding point-by-point to the ‘test’ (I don’t think it deserves a response, and I’m not a climatologist), I suggest you look for the following tactics:

    * contradictory statements: global warming exists, but it doesn’t exist
    * attempts to redefine terms (so that the propagandist can make factually true claims)
    * emphasis on ‘science’ and ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’ all of which somehow always lines up with their argument (real science, alas, is quite messy and always filled with caveats)

    You’ll notice these strategies come up again and again, regardless of the subject–which is why I mentioned the old smoking propaganda:

    1) Deny the problem exists
    2) okay, maybe there’s a problem, but our product/behavior isn’t causing it
    3) okay, maybe we’re causing it a little bit, but the more significant cause is (distraction)
    4) have you considered that there are benefits to smoking/global warming? for example, smokers have a lower rate of alzheimer’s disease. And human civilization has historically undergone significant spans of progress during eras of warmer climate
    5) It’s a really complicated issue, isn’t it? We need more studies and evidence before we can decide what to do about this
    6) Don’t let others make your choices for you
    7) Deny the problem exists

  15. Lou June 28th, 2007 7:59 am

    Hmmm, last time I tried to convince a Fritschi user to convert to Dynafit he brought up every one of those 7 points in one way or another!

  16. Dave M October 3rd, 2008 9:20 pm

    Global warming deniers will ultimately go the way of the dinosaur. It’s real, it’s here, and we’ve got to do something about it. Sure, it’s easier to lay the responsibility on someone else (“If the Chinese would stop burning all that dirty coal…”) but I find that more of a rationalization than fact. It’s hard to deny that Americans use WAY more than their fair share of energy.

    One way each of us could make a difference would be to look at each of our high carbon emitting activities (like driving 8 hours in a v8 to get the fresh) and figuring out ways we can reduce our impact. Moving your own ass up the hill is a good start. In fact, I was brought to backcountry skiing after a life-long pursue of alpine skiing in hopes of getting my fix while being a bit more responsible for my energy consumption. Besides, the powder tends to be fresher when you work for it.

  17. FrameNZ January 3rd, 2009 4:19 am

    Below is qn excerpt from on why we may be getting plenty of snow. Just out of interest…

    “Taken with the fact that parts of New Zealand and the Andes have just had a very good season too, with snowfall records tumbling at several locations, does all this good news mean that 2008/2009 will prove to be another bumper ski season? If so, does it follow, as some media commentators have already suggested, that all our previous concerns about global warming can now be dismissed? The answer to the first question is “yes, probably” but to the second one, an emphatic “No”.

    All things considered, this probably will be another good season for most Northern Hemisphere ski areas. With so much depth to the pistes in early December, especially in the Alps and Pyrenees where 2-3m on upper slopes is commonplace, the odds are now stacked in favour of another vintage ski season; very few seasons that start this well go on to disappoint.

    Unfortunately, this does nothing to suggest that climate change doomsayers have been barking up the wrong tree all along: the scientific evidence remains compelling. Three seasons ago we all wondered if we had seen the last of December skiing in the Alps and questioned the economic viability of low altitude Austrian resorts, yet now skiers are frustrated that more resorts don’t open in November when there is plainly already enough snow. Broadly speaking, two things have worked in our favour. First, the well-understood La Nina pattern in the Pacific has led to lower global temperatures and a more favourable storm pattern, and second, a much less well understood solar minimum (the sunspot cycle) has run longer and deeper than usual. In short, the natural state of flux has briefly conspired to produce two cooling factors that have been strong enough to overcome the warming trend and produce some exceptional ski seasons.

    The La Nina pattern has already faded to neutral, and after an unusually long delay, the first of the sunspots of the next solar cycle have begun to cross the solar disk. Our advice is to make the most of the great conditions around the globe before the warming pattern resumes. Failing some enormous volcanic eruption along the lines of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, expect a return to depressingly mild winters sooner rather than later. We would not be surprised to see the early arrival of Spring snow conditions, just as happened in New Zealand a few months ago when some resorts like Mount Lyford lost several metres of snow cover in just a few weeks dashing high hopes for late Spring skiing. In Moscow, a temperature of 9.4 degrees Celsius (49F) was recorded last Saturday at 3am; a new record high for December following the warmest Autumn there for over 100 years. Hopefully this is not a portent of things to come.”

  18. Lou January 3rd, 2009 10:53 am

    Frame, sounds interesting, thanks.

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