British Columbia ski resorts fight to survive global warming

Projections suggest that low-lying coastal mountains will face a steep drop in snowfall by mid-century

By many metrics, the future of the global ski industry looks bleak due to climate change, but brave BC ski resorts are trying to turn the tide.

According to Michael Pidwirny, a climatologist at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, projections suggest that the coastal mountains – including Mount Washington, Cypress Bowl, Grouse Mountain, Mount Seymour and Hemlock – will experience a sharp drop in rainfall. snow by mid-century. This will inevitably call into question their very existence as a winter resort, he said.

The interior of British Columbia will face even greater warming than coastal regions. But with already cold winters and longer seasons, resorts like Lake Louise and Big White will remain viable well into the future, according to an unpublished study by Pidwirny of 12 B.C. ski resorts.

As resorts deal with less snowfall, Pidwirny said operators with the deepest annual snowfalls have to start thinking about how they will adapt.

“We will take market share”

Glacier Media contacted 34 ski resorts in British Columbia to understand how operators plan to adapt to climate change and the accompanying decrease in snowfall.

At Big White, outside Kelowna, management is monitoring 10-year snowfall averages but still discussing how it will adapt to warmer, wetter winters, according to marketing manager Michael J. Ballingall.

“We know that we will take market share from those who have no snow. People will continue to ski wherever they can,” he said.

Buried deep in the Rocky Mountains north of Prince George, Powder King Mountain Resort owner and manager Jim Salisbury says he hasn’t done any official modeling for the mountain. But for the record, he said, the station had an average of 20 meters of snow per year; now it averages just over 12.

“We get the arctic outflows, we get the influence from the pacific and you know, we’re just blessed here. I mean, a bad year here at Powder King is always a good year,” he said, describing his mountain as a 200-year-old operation in a prime location. “If we don’t get snow, the whole world will have bigger problems.”

Ian Jenkins of SilverStar Mountain Resort said his focus is on reducing emissions and limiting the resort’s impact on the local environment. That’s a message echoed by most of the ski resorts Glacier Media surveyed across British Columbia.

Almost all of the major ski resorts surveyed said they were expanding their off-season activities to compensate for any future drop in snowfall.

“Go off the beaten track”

Just a few miles from the US border, the resort town of Baldy Mountain rises south of the Okanagan Valley. Baldy’s lifts reach an elevation of over 2,100 meters, making it one of the highest resorts in British Columbia. But that hasn’t stopped its operators from moving forward with plans to accommodate any potential drop in snowfall over the next few decades.

Troy Lucas, who helps run the resort, told Glacier Media that the mountain avoids snowmaking and the huge volume of water it uses. Instead, he says they’re looking to create an elaborate system of lightweight, moveable fences that – properly shaded and insulated – could capture enough snowdrifts to cover stations on 55 kilometers of trails.

By design, the resort’s trails are inactive two days a week. Marketed as “powder Thursdays,” the weekly ski sabbatical doubles as a built-in safety net for snow accumulation.

“We think well outside the box,” Lucas said.

Baldy Mountain Resort is also striving to become a year-round business, opening up the hill to mountain biking, camping, Frisbee golf, and even farming. For the first time last year, the mountain opened up to summer visitors, turning on lifts and giving hikers access to an extensive network of trails; and in July “Baldy Beach” kicked off, an event bringing people together through horseshoes, games and volleyball.

Ski resort operators in more isolated parts of the province say expanding summer operations are not possible without more money or better access to tourism.

“I don’t know if we have anything in our toolbox,” said Hildur Sinclair, second-generation owner-operator of Troll Ski Resort near Quesnel, one of the first moguls on the west side of the Caribou Mountains. .

“We don’t make snow. We prepare things as low as possible. We mow our hill so we don’t need so much snow… That’s about all we can do.

Sinclair says she remembers the deep frosts when her parents ran the station. But over the past 20 years, she says, winters have warmed, with lower temperatures moving later in the season and impacting peak sales at Christmas.

The holiday season is a critical time of year for ski slopes around the world, says Scott. Most resorts do 25% of their business over Christmas and New Years. Miss that, and a mountain will have financial problems it will never make up for the rest of the season, says the climate change expert and tourism.

Sinclair’s solution was to cater to local skiers and snowboarders. This loyal clientele has helped the station weather shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed.

Now she is in talks with Alpine Canada to move their training from the Coast Range to more consistent climates.

“They are concerned about where they are going to train. They look inward,” she said.

Teresa H. Sadler