U.S. Ski and Snowboard sets its sights on sustainability | TahoeDailyTribune.com

U.S. Ski and Snowboard sets its sights on sustainability

Ben Ramsey
sports@parkrecord.com

Mikaela Shiffrin, USA, competes in a World Cup giant slalom race at Squaw Valley in March 2017.

The relationship between climate and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association is simple, according to Eric Webster, senior director of events at the nonprofit.

"Without snow, U.S. Ski and Snowboard doesn't exist," he said.

That's why U.S. Ski and Snowboard — which is based in Park City, Utah — is pursuing an initiative to become more sustainable.

According to Webster, U.S. Ski and Snowboard has been looking inward at the organization, finding where it can reduce its carbon emissions and consumption of products, and has been searching for partners to help it achieve its three main goals.

A press release announcing the initiative last month defined those goals as: becoming a more sustainable business and promoting sustainability in its business partners, suppliers and competitions; educating those involved with U.S. Ski and Snowboard about climate change and the sustainability of the organization's sports; and collaborating with resorts, other sports federations and environmental groups to promote sustainable practices throughout the snow sports industry.

"We kind of sat on the sidelines for a number of years, but with everything that's going on … we felt it was important to use our image and athletes to promote (sustainability)," Webster said.

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Though the organization is still in the early stages of setting concrete goals, there are many options the nonprofit is looking at, including recycling programs, ways to offset the carbon footprint of competitions, carpooling for the roughly 400 people that work in Quinn's Junction (where U.S. Ski and Snowboard's headquarters and training center are located) and athletes when they travel abroad, as well as reducing use of paper throughout the organization.

The move comes as resorts and other industry giants are elevating the importance of combating climate change. This past summer, Vail Resorts announced it will pursue a sustainability commitment, called "Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint." Vail owns and operates Heavenly Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Mountain and others in North America and beyond.

Webster expects some of the initiative to affect the way U.S. Ski and Snowboard sanctioned competitions are conducted, which would give the initiative nationwide impact.

Webster recognized that some observers may disagree with the idea of human-caused climate change, but said it was not something the organization was wringing its hands over.

"I don't think we can worry about them," Webster said of climate change deniers, adding that some negative feedback accompanies every change. "Snow sports, they rely on whether there's cold weather or snow to be successful. Over the years we've seen events canceled or schedules change because of climate, and we as an organization needed to support a healthy environment."

According to NASA, the earth's average surface temperature has increased 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, with two-thirds of that warming occurring since 1975. Sixteen of the top 17 hottest years recorded have occurred since 2000.

Precipitation has also increased. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, global precipitation has increased at an average rate of 0.08 inches per decade since 1901, while precipitation in the contiguous 48 states has increased at a rate of 0.17 inches per decade.

Pair that with warmer air's ability to hold more water, and the result is warmer, wetter winters with the possibility of larger storms.

Webster said U.S. Ski and Snowboard has seen the effects of climate change firsthand. Specifically, last year's World Cup ski races in Beaver Creek, Colorado, were canceled because the weather was too warm to make snow. He said U.S. Ski and Snowboard also canceled another World Cup event at Squaw Valley in March 2015 because of unseasonably warm weather.

"It was just pouring rain at 9,000 feet at the end of February," Webster said.

This season is following the new climate trend, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association recording October as 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average temperature, and rainfall across the U.S. at .37 inches of above average.

The 2017 U.S. average temperature is currently the third warmest to date, according to NOAA, while 2017 has been the second wettest recorded. Webster said U.S. Ski and Snowboard has entered into "vague" partnerships with the government Park City, and has "committed to working with" Recycle Utah and the Utah Green Business Alliance. But for now, U.S. Ski and Snowboard has formed a 20-member committee selected from its employees to establish concrete goals for the next year.