Colo. activists warn in D.C. of skiing threat from climate change

Author: Tom Ramstack - September 28, 2018 - Updated: October 15, 2018

Skiers at Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin on Dec. 9, 2017. Activists went to Washington this week to make the point that Colorado stands to lose big if global warming continues to chip away at its winter recreation industry. (iStock/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Colorado advocates against global warming wrapped up a week of meetings on Capitol Hill Thursday after reminding members of Congress about severe consequences from warmer winters.

Their point: Colorado stands to lose big if climate change continues to chip away at its winter recreation industry.

“It’s about jobs and it’s about the economy,” said Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., at a Capitol Hill reception. Global warming is putting 191,000 jobs at risk, she said.

She talked about growing up in a family of skiers and winter sportsmen before saying that “mostly I care about people having fun outdoors.”

Outdoor industry businessmen, winter athletes and environmentalists met with 29 U.S. representatives and senators, both Republican and Democratic, this week. They described the meetings as cordial while they focused primarily on potential economic losses.

“That resonates with people from both sides of the aisle,” said Lindsay Bourgoine, advocacy manager for the Boulder-based environmental group Protect Our Winters.

The activists want Congress to enact legislation requiring wider use of renewable energy, mass transportation and fees on industries that emit carbon pollutants. Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

The lobbying campaign continues an effort from April, when two U.S. senators hosted an event in Washington to discuss harm to the outdoor winter industry from global warming. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, was one of the hosts.

They were joined by Winter Olympic athletes who talked about global warming limiting the venues for their sports.

Bennet criticized political leaders who deny human-made climate change and want to minimize fuel efficiency standards. He would like to organize a coalition around scientific evidence of global warming to encourage political action against it.

President Donald Trump is among the political leaders who want to ease restrictions on coal and other carbon-emitting fuels for inexpensive energy production.

Protect Our Winters argues that any potential benefits from carbon-based fuels are offset by the damage to the climate and the winter recreation industry.

From 1955 to 2016, April snowpack declined at more than 90 percent of the sites measured in western states, according to meteorological reports. The average decline across all sites was about 23 percent.

About 71 percent of Colorado residents participate in outdoor recreation, according to Protect Our Winters.

“That’s a powerful constituency,” Mario Molina, executive director of Protect Our Winters, told Colorado Politics. “With 26 ski resorts in the state, snow is an incredibly important economic driver, especially in our many mountain towns.”

Nationwide, “Low snow years in comparison to the average bring in $1 billion less in economic value and cost 17,400 jobs,” he said.

Although Democrats are their strongest supporters, Protect Our Winters officials say solutions that join with Republicans are most likely to succeed.

“We meet with both Republicans and Democrats and encourage all members that we meet with to join the House Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus,” Molina said.

Aspen Skiing Co., which operates four resorts in the Aspen area, recently organized a political action campaign called “Give a Flake.” It includes a website (giveaflake.com) that encourages visitors to vote for politicians who will work against global warming.

“Last season was the worst season we’ve seen since the 70s,” Christian Knapp, chief marketing officer for the company, said about the effect of warm weather on the previous ski season.

He predicted “a ripple effect for several seasons after” that will continue to hurt Colorado’s ski resort business.

Kelly Clark, a five-time Olympic snowboarder, said that when she started snowboarding 20 years ago, competitions were held nationwide. Warmer winters have limited opportunities for winter sports, she said.

“I would say 90 percent of our contests now are in Colorado,” Clark said. “It’s the only place that we can guarantee snow.”

Tom Ramstack

Tom Ramstack