The growing threat climate change to skiing culture

Jesse Carey

Jesse Carey
Jesse Carey

Come back in time for a moment, to a long, long time ago. Eight thousand years before the life and death of Jesus Christ, to be exact. In the snowy climate of the Arctic circle, early humans found that snow and ice could be traversed faster by fashioning wood into skis. Skiing predates the invention of writing by at least 4,000 years, if not more. Its use was strictly utilitarian. Skis allowed humans to transport more stuff and move further over snowbound wastes. A pretty useful tool, for a particular branch of humans.

Over time, the use of skis changed, from a purely transport-oriented tool to a military device, and in the last 80 years especially, to the winter recreation and sporting activity we recognize today.

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The rise of recreation skiing has spawned another movement, snowboarding, and each of these sports have bred unique subcultures with fascinating histories. On a more commercial level, the industry generates billions of dollars in revenue every year.

It is somehow fitting that one of the oldest tools that humans created to better conquer the environment around them should be facing a crisis created by humans as a cost of conquering the environment. Climate change threatens winter sports as we know them now, and threatens them in a much shorter time span than many of the more profound changes. Livelihoods are at stake, as are cultural aspects that have grown out of alpine skiing.

Shifting snowfall patterns and generally rising temperatures will dramatically alter the landscape — determining everything from viable locations of the Olympic Winter Games to a relocation of ski resorts to follow where snow still falls. Many resorts are already feeling the (literal) heat, and the shake-up or outright collapse of the industry would hurt the economies of many states that rely on ski tourism (including Colorado’s) pretty severely.

On the cultural side, almost 100 years of alpine racing history is threatened, and about 40 years of snowboarding culture likewise hangs in the balance. A long, fun day out in the mountain sun might become something that future generations never get to experience.

So why should you care if you don’t ski or snowboard? Obviously, the potential consequences of climate change go much deeper, and are much more serious than the gradual death of privileged people’s hobbies. But the loss of once routine activities like skiing should be a warning, perhaps the last warning, about what is to come — if the snowpack that quenches a nation’s thirst is so depleted that you can’t ride on it, it follows that not enough will be able to drink from it come the thaw.

All is not lost. Sensible climate change deals, like the landmark one between China and the U.S., might stem the tide and mark a turning point in international recognition of climate change. And Skiing and snowboarding will likely persist in one form or another, whether it’s artificial snow or artificial ski hills. The methods used for skiing and snowboarding might grow and adapt to our changing climate. Nevertheless, the quality and access to the sport will likely decline as climate change progresses, making activities that are often elitist in nature even more so.

Collegian Columnist Jesse Carey can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @junotbend