DENVER (AP) – The scene can be jarring during times of extreme drought: snow-making guns line the slopes, blasting precious crystal shards on the ski slopes while the rest of the region thirsty land.
Snow and ice in the western United States has decreased by about 20% in the last century, making artificial snow more important each year for opening ski resorts and boosting the economies of ski towns. as they step into an uncertain future.
As the effects of drought and climate change intensify, the ski industry has invested millions of dollars in more efficient snow-making systems amid questions about whether the operation Is it a wise use of energy and water?
“There are impacts. They are so sorry. We don’t want to create snow, said Auden Schendler, senior vice president of sustainability for Aspen Ski Company in Colorado. “But our regional economy and the economy of all ski towns depends on the operation of your ski resort. And so this is a necessary evil.”
Snowmaking has been around since at least the 1950s, but the practice became more popular in the West after a severe drought in the late 1970s. According to the National Association of Ski Areas, the practice became more popular in the West. Based in Colorado, about 87% of the 337 U.S. alpine resorts represented by the trade group are capable of generating snow.
Many resorts draw water from nearby springs or reservoirs and often use compressed air and electricity to blow snow into piles on the slopes when it’s cold. These piles are then spread into a base layer that allows the resorts to open in early winter and stay open throughout spring.
Kevin Rein, state engineer and director of the Colorado Department of Water Resources, said that when analyzing most of the ski resorts in Colorado, snowfall costs about 1.5 billion gallons (6.8 billion liters). water each year in the state. That’s enough to fill about 2,200 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
That may sound like a lot, but Rein says snowmaking accounts for less than a tenth of 1% of the water diverted in the state, of which agriculture accounts for about 85%. Furthermore, about 80% of the water used in snowmaking returns to the headwaters when the snow melts in the spring.
Rein, whose agency regulates the process, said snowmaking is recognized by the courts as a “beneficial use” in Colorado. “It’s part of our tourism, it’s part of what we do in Colorado.”
But Patrick Belmont, professor and dean of the Department of Watershed Sciences at Wyoming State University, says it’s important to note that a lot of energy is used in snowmaking, and a lot of water is lost through the process. evaporate and sublimate.
“It’s not trivial, especially in a place where we don’t have a lot of water to begin with. … Every drop of water matters,” he said.
Belmont, an avid skier who recently published a wide-ranging study on snowmaking and climate change, is also concerned that the artificial snow, is denser, and melts later than it is. with practice, can affect the flow.
“There are a lot of fish that take their cues about things like when to lay eggs or when to do different things in their lives based on how the current is up or down. So we are changing the types of natural signals for some of those organisms,” he said.
Schendler, of the Aspen Ski Company, says ski resorts have made great strides in becoming more efficient and environmentally friendly. But he also recalls a time when they used to pay little attention to the weather forecast, just watching the fruits of their labor melt away in the warm afternoon sun.
“One way the industry has gotten smarter is that they say, ‘Look, we wouldn’t make snow if it weren’t cold and if there wasn’t a forecast for cold weather,’” he said. “That may sound silly and similar, but the industry is historically very similar.”
Many resorts have also invested heavily in recent years to upgrade their snowmaking operations. Some have dug storage ponds to collect water in the spring when water is abundant, while others are interested in using recycled wastewater.
Colorado-based Vail Resorts, which owns 37 ski resorts in the US, Canada and Australia, announced during an earnings call last December a $3.6 million investment in the efforts. sustainable development this year, including making their snowmaking operations more energy efficient.
Over the past few years, the company has upgraded more than 400 snowball guns across its resorts to produce more snow with less energy in less time. Meanwhile, Breckenridge, owned by Vail Resorts and one of the largest and most popular ski resorts in the country, has 110 effective snowball guns.
“If I could make all the snow we need in a third of the time, that would be a huge energy saving. That’s a huge labor savings,” said Kate Schifani, snowmaking manager at Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado.
Vail’s modern snow guns can adjust water output and automatically turn off when the weather gets too warm – a major upgrade from older technology that required workers to monitor temperatures and manually shut down the system.
Besides being more water efficient, ski resorts are harnessing more renewable energy to power snow guns, which account for about 20% of a typical resort’s energy use. Figure.
The National Ski Area Association’s decades-old “Climate Challenge” program encourages resorts to inventory and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and advocates for legislation to combat Climate Change.
Since its inception, the volunteer program has cut emissions by about 129,300 tons (117,300 tons), according to the group. Participating resorts have also purchased renewable energy which further reduces greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 242,500 tonnes (220,000 tonnes). That’s a minuscule amount compared to the estimated 6 billion tons (5.4 billion tons) of U.S. greenhouse gases produced in 2021 – the country’s total carbon emissions by about 32 minutes – according to the toxic Rhodium Corporation. create.
But advocates say it’s a start.
“We can do what we can in our own operations, but if there is a future for outdoor recreation and a future for humanity, we will need everything,” says Adrienne Saia. the kind of solution we could find. Isaac, a spokesman for the NSAA. “We have to make changes now.”
Schendler, who warns that the ski industry will not be able to survive after 2050, agrees.
“Historically, the industry has responded to climate change by saying, ‘We’re going to clean up our operations, we’re going to do a good job of making snow, and we’re going to do a good job of making snow,’ he said. cut its carbon footprint’. “That is wonderful and noble, as well as ethical and good business, but it is not the solution to a global problem.”
Associated Press video journalist Brittany Peterson of Vail and Science Writer Seth Borenstein of Kensington, Maryland, contributed to this report.
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