Good news for you snow lovers out there: The ski industry finally seems to be serious about fighting climate change. In the past, I've written that the biz has been slow to respond to the threat, which could decimate U.S. ski resorts by the end of the century. Industry leaders have been busy dealing with more immediate threats, like the decline in ticket sales that are so important for covering the ever-rising costs of snowmaking, grooming, and high-speed lifts. And besides, ski resorts haven't traditionally been pumped to stump for global warming -- the more warm weather makes headlines, the less inclined people are to visit increasingly slushy slopes.
But when I referred to the industry as global warming's "reluctant poster child" in a recent phone conversation with Geraldine Link, public policy director for the National Ski Areas Association, she replied, "I strenuously disagree."
Link pointed out that her group, which represents 325 ski resorts and almost 500 ski equipment suppliers, adopted an official climate change policy in 2002. The policy called on resorts to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, educate skiers and boarders about the issue, and advocate for climate action. "It was cutting edge for the time," Link said. The policy, plus the association’s Sustainable Slopes program and recently launched Climate Challenge, have led many resorts to reduce their energy use, buy renewable energy “offsets,” and install a handful of flashy slopeside wind turbines and solar panels.
In the context of global climate change, these local efforts are a bit like throwing snowballs at an oncoming train. (“That doesn't stop climate change -- it just stops environmentalists from criticizing you,” says longtime industry critic Auden Schendler, Aspen Ski Co.’s sustainability chief.) To have a real impact, the biz will need to throw its full financial weight around in Washington, D.C., where more substantive change can be had.