Backcountry skiing involves repetitive motion that can wear on your joints, so a few months off during summer may improve your health. But if your bod is holding up you don’t have to quit.
You can probably find the most options for summer glisse up in the Northwest, covered in detail at Turns All Year. Other popular and somewhat accessible options are Mount Shasta as well as high altitude snow patches in most of the west’s mountains. And least we lower-48ers forget, the high glaciated peaks of Canada and Alaska also provide skiable snow every month of the year.
Which brings us to hotly burning question number one: What influence will global warming have on summer skiing? I’d think marginal snow patches will become much smaller and the snow line will be slightly higher on peaks such as Shasta. But I doubt we’ll entirely lose summer skiing, since high altitude climate has plenty of cushion in terms of a low enough average temperature to maintain summer snow patches. More, any observant mountain person knows that summer snow is as dependant on having a good winter accumulation as it is on melting rates.
So, the other flaming question: Will global warming significantly change precipitation? Much of what I’ve read says that scientists who are perfectly willing to predict the future in terms of average temperature are hesitant to predict (in more than generalizations)how much change we’ll have in precipitation. Indeed, it’s known that warmer air can produce more snowfall during winter months, thus it could go either way…
Which leads to another global warming news item. Here in Western Colorado we have a few low altitude ski resorts. I believe the viability of such resorts is in question due to our warming climate, but does that mean they should back off from investing money and expanding their scope? Apparently not.
Nearly 100% of climate change journalism is pessimistic to an almost pathological level (hello nihilism), but a recent article in the Aspen Daily News actually had the guts to at least ask the question, “Global warming good for Colorado skiing?”
While the article indeed reflects confusion as to what precip changes might happen in Colorado, It is clear about one thing: When it comes to skiing in a warmer climate, elevation is key.
Near here in west central Colorado, Sunlight Mountain Resort has a base elevation of 7,885 feet and only rises to 9,895 feet. That’s a base about 100 feet lower than Aspen Mountain’s, and with a much lower summit. The area is known as a winter powder stash with slow lifts, but also known for its short season due to a thinner snowpack and quick melt-off in late winter and spring.
Sunlight was recently purchased, and the buyer is poised to sink major money into ski lifts, snow making, and a base real estate project. It’s easy to see they plan on making money from real estate, and one has to think they realize their ski season may only be limited to a few months a year. (Unless they are global warming deniers, which I doubt.) Snow making will help, but you can only make snow in cold air, and covering a whole mountain with enough snow to tide you through a long hot March/April is an immense project of questionable worth.
Thus, one has to conclude that Sunlight was purchased to create a year-around mountain resort which will de-emphasise skiing and ramp up the overall mountain lifestyle as a sales tool. Not entirely a bad thing, as we do love the mountain lifestyle. But I’m sad that more entrepreneurs are not investing in creating high altitude ski resorts that can easily cope with global warming.
The model for such resorts would be Arapahoe Basin, Colorado’s high altitude ski area that’s usually the first in the state to open and last to close (base 10,780 feet, summit 13,050 feet!). Arapahoe was bought in 1997 by Dundee Realty, an outfit that apparently sees the potential in high altitude skiing and has been making significant improvements to the resort. Sure, Dundee might be planning on the usual real estate moves, but such will be supported by more than a golf course since they’re working with a viable high-altitude ski resort that can easily cope with warmer weather.
Do you blog readers think global warming will destroy skiing? Will it eliminate summer skiing? Will climate change bring more precipitation to the mountains of the North American West? Comments on.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.