Climate change is bearing down on us. The threat posed to people, economies and natural ecosystems is of a level only surpassed by the risk of nuclear war. For those of us who love mountains and winter, the threat is obvious enough: shorter, more erratic snow seasons.
While here in Australia we face a dwindling snow pack, it’s the same story in ranges around the world. For instance, in the Northern Cascades National Park, which contains 1/3 of the glaciers in the Lower 48 states of the USA, the glaciers have lost a half of their mass over the past century. Since 1955, the mountains of the western ranges of the USA have lost 23% of snowpack.
This is having a direct impact on local economies. Low snow seasons in the western USA between 2000 and 2010 cost the ski industry more than US$1B in lost revenue.
Many resorts and individual players in the snow industry have been stepping up and joining the fight against climate change. Park City in Utah is one of the latest.
Julie Brown, managing editor at Powder Magazine has written a great profile of efforts to reduce Park City’s contribution to global warming. The resort was acquired by Vail in 2015. Park City has now committed to ‘displace fossil fuels’. According to Luke Cartin, the town’s environmental sustainability manager this needs to happen “by building new stuff (ie new renewable energy) and shutting down the old stuff.”
Last year, city officials pledged to reduce Park City’s carbon footprint to zero by 2032. ‘An accelerated five-year deadline for city operations to cut out carbon ranks as one of the most ambitious climate change goals in the country’.
Some of the key aspects of their response include:
- They plan to run Park City operations on wind and solar, including the nearby Deer Valley and Park City ski areas
- They note that consumers can be powerful in influencing investment decisions by energy utility companies
- Given that transportation produces similar amounts of greenhouse gases as electricity use (with visitation of up to 40,000 cars a day in winter!), Park City is also investing heavily in electric buses. There is now a series of shuttles that run from the interstate highway to the town and there are plans to discourage personal car use through starting to charge for car parking in the town
- Park City has started an e-bike share system (with 88 bikes at different charging stations around town)
- Additionally they have been investing in buying up public land to convert to open space (unlike Australian resorts, a lot of land around town is privately owned). Once land is bought and converted into reserves, it is also being used to draw down carbon.
Of course, a single resort or town cannot stop or even slow global warming. But everyone must play their part. It will be determined, strategic and consistent action which will bring about the required changes. While it does include technological innovation – for instance, switching from relying on coal to using renewable energy – it will also require profound personal and cultural change. As local land conservationist Caitlin Willard says “the thing that … is going to help save the world is people changing their culture, changing their habits, and realizing that things are not always going to be easy and convenient.” Its great to take inspiration from the sorts of initiatives being undertaken at Park City. It is also a reminder of what resorts here in Australia could achieve with a bit of vision and determination.
Image: PeteysHead – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61823985