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Global warming concerns resorts

Dan Thrift/Tahoe TribuneSnowboarders take advantage of Kirkwood Mountain Resort's ample snowpack. Someday ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada may not be so fortunate.
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You can’t ski or ride on mountains soaked by rain.

As scientists confirm over and over again that global warming is real, the ski industry is moving to combat what may someday create a huge problem for its business with an educational campaign called Keep Winter Cool.

“We’re just like farmers,” said Jeff Walters, vice president of mountain operations at Kirkwood Mountain Resort. “If it snows through Thursday night, we’re in business. When it rains, our numbers go way down. There’s a direct correlation to what Mother Nature can provide and how successful our season is.”



Walters attended a conference at Northstar-at-Tahoe in the fall that addressed global warming. He said climate change is something the industry cannot ignore.

Resorts near the Lake Tahoe Basin that have signed on in support of the Keep Winter Cool campaign are: Alpine Meadows, Boreal Mountain Resort, Kirkwood, Northstar, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Squaw Valley USA, Sugar Bowl, Heavenly Ski Resort and Mt. Rose.




The National Ski Areas Association, which will kick off the campaign Feb. 22, plans to send displays to resorts across the country to educate skiers and riders of what they can do to help solve the problem.

The displays will be sent out to the 170 resorts that support Sustainable Slopes, an initiative begun by the association in 2000 to help protect the environment.

Those 170 resorts represent about 72 percent of the industry. In total, the ski association has 326 members which account for more than 90 percent of the industry, said Geraldine Link, director of public policy at the ski association.

The group also aims to: help policymakers realize winter sports depend on the climate; lobby for a national reduction of greenhouse gases; support use of renewable energy technologies; and find a way to increase energy efficiency at resorts and measure pollution reduction.

In an effort to protect the environment, some resorts in the U.S. have begun to run buses and snowcats on biodiesel fuel — 20 percent processed soy bean oil and 80 percent diesel — which reduces emissions up to 30 percent.

Northstar has been conducting a trial use of the biodiesel for its on-site buses since November.

“We’re definitely on board with it,” said Toby Baird, spokesman at Northstar, of the Keep Winter Cool campaign. “Being proactive toward the environment is one of our company values. It’s a global issue that affects weather patterns everywhere and everyone should do their part. I think it’s a good thing the ski industry as a whole is taking the lead on this.”

The National Ski Areas Association decided 2003 was the year to address the impacts of global warming because the science is solid that says the climate is changing because of human impact.

“I would say there seems to a be more of a scientific consensus now,” Link said. “The EPA put out a report, for example, I believe in 2002. It contained some information that we thought was important to consider.

“What better industry to take the leadership role? Although we produce a negligible amount of greenhouse gas, we’d be the first to be impacted by that kind of warming trend.”

The warming trend is not being denied by scientists, said Richard Somerville, a climate expert at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. But, he said, disinformation is spread by industries that feel threatened by the facts.

“In some segments of industry, by no means all, it’s a big public relations campaign,” Somerville said. “The facts are that the atmosphere is warming. It has warmed about 1 degree globally over the last century.”

Scientists studying the issue take into account historic weather trends, volcanoes, as well as how the Earth rotates around the sun, but those factors still do not fully account for the warming trend, according to Somerville.

“We cannot make the computer models produce temperature increases unless we include the effect of human beings,” he said.

Population growth and burning of fossil fuels, like coal and oil, is what pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and further insulates the greenhouse that is planet Earth. Carbon dioxide lasts about 100 years in the atmosphere and accounts for 50 percent of greenhouse gases.

The other greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexaflouride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons.

“There are more people now and using much more energy,” Somerville said. “I think energy efficiency and conservation makes a lot of sense.”

Somerville said the only consequences the Earth can count on as a result of global warming are a rising sea level because of melting glaciers and a greater possibility of rain than snow.

“The seas rise about 6 inches a century,” Somerville said. “We’re projecting it might rise a foot to 3 feet over the next 100 years. That doesn’t present any difficulties if you’re living in Tahoe at 6,000 feet, but if you’re living on the beach it’s a serious issue.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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