A group of winter athletes from around the world are working together to encourage Australian snow resorts and skiers to help fight climate change.
The Protect Our Winters campaign was kicked off at the Mount Buller and Thredbo ski resorts by American Chris Davenport, a two-time World Extreme Skiing Champion.
The launch follows modelling from the CSIRO which shows ski seasons could be cut by 80 days by 2050 due to climate change.
Mr Davenport, who skis for up to 150 days a year across the globe, said he was already seeing the impact of a warming planet.
“The thing that I’ve seen is that things are just less predictable,” he said.
“What used to be typical for snow in certain areas now is just unpredictable.
“You just don’t know if you’re going to have snow in the winter.”
Winters wasting away
Protect Our Winters was founded by professional US snowboarder Jeremy Jones in 2007.
He decided to act after realising that an increasing number of resorts he had always relied on for good conditions were closed due to lack of snow.
Now in its eleventh year, the campaign works to turn winter athletes and snow businesses into effective climate advocates.
Mr Davenport said the uncertainty of a good natural snowfall was impacting on the industry, and businesses were finding it harder to plan and budget with less predictable winters.
“So I’ve seen a lot more low snow years, a lot more rain events happening in the middle of winter at times when you typically would never have rain,” he said.
“I’ve seen earlier spring melting — conditions that are really just abnormal.”
Plans for resorts to manage climate change
The launch of the campaign comes as the Alpine Resorts Co-ordinating Council (ARCC) prepares to develop a new strategic plan for Victorian ski resorts, with a key element focusing on how best to deal with climate change and its predicted impacts on Australia’s alpine regions.
Acting Executive Officer Alex Shilton said the resorts needed to be prepared.
“I think people realise that resorts are the canary in the coalmine,” Mr Shilton said.
“The effects are going to be keenly felt of resorts so people are going to be aware of that.”
He said social campaigns like Protect Our Winters were not new, and similar ones had been run in Australia to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on ski resorts, which generates over a billon dollars in NSW and Victoria annually.
The Keep Winter Cool campaign was adopted by the ARCC in the early 2000s and aimed to educate people about climate change, and to make resorts and private operators more environmentally friendly.
“There’s been quite a long period of time where the alpine community have taken initiatives to do what they can,” Mr Shilton said.
Firing up the snow machines
The Australian Ski Areas Association — a non-profit industry body representing Australian Ski Area owners and operators — said it has already prepared for less snowy winters.
ASAA CEO Colin Hackworth said snow machines were now efficient enough to make up for the lack of snowfall, with many resorts last year having to rely on almost 100 per cent man-made snow to cater to the school holiday market.
“Snowmaking has filled that gap and actually improved it, and in some of our resorts operating dates since 1979 have actually increased between six and 10 per cent,” he said.
“The introduction of snow making and whether there has been a reduction in natural snowfall or not — that gap has been filled.”
He said it was a positive move for resorts to rely on man made snow.
“Alpine resorts are businesses and what it does is creates continuity and creates certainty,” he said.
Mr Hackworth admitted that snow making did require a lot of natural resources such as water and electricity, but said resorts were working to reduce their carbon footprint as snowmakers became more efficient.
While operators say they are equipped to deal with fewer snow falls, Protect Our Winters campaigner Josh Fletcher said it was vital to retain natural Australian winters and snowfall.
“Even though it’s such a small area that is covered in Australia we’re also really lucky to ski and enjoy the alpine here,” Mr Fletcher said.