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ASK EARTHA: How Climate Change Effects Outdoor Recreation

 In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, It snowed and my friends and I are getting stoked for winter! But they’re not as concerned about climate change as I am. Why does it seem like I’m the only one worried about the future of our favorite sport?

Gotta love this time of year – when we all wait in anticipation for those first major snowstorms and the bliss of the season’s first turns. And yet, I’m right there with you. Because lurking behind all the joy of sliding on snow is a feeling that maybe this winter wonderland won’t last forever.

Feeling hot, hot, hot

Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Climate change threatens winter and summer recreation. In case you missed it, a recent report by Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) looked specifically at what the impacts of climate change will be in Summit County. If we do nothing, winters will get warmer. In fact, by 2050, nearly a quarter of our winter days could have high temperatures above freezing – compared to just 12 percent of winter days in the years between 1970 – 1999.

Now, warmer winters may not seem like a big deal, especially for people like me who – ironically – hate being cold. But take a moment to think about the snow we all love to ski and ride – blower pow. According to the meteorological experts at OpenSnow, the ideal temperatures for perfect powder are between 0 – 10 degrees. So as winter warms, that means less opportunity for gnar-filled powder days…and more opportunity for wet, heavy snow. That, my friends, is a crying shame.

It’s not just winter that’s heating up. Peak springtime runoff now occurs 15 – 30 days earlier than it did in the late 1970s. April snowpack has decreased between 20 – 60 percent at most monitoring sites across Colorado. Not only does that cut ski season short, but it also affects river flows, impacting both boating and angling. Of course, summers are getting hotter, too. Again, by 2050, more of our summer days will top out over 80 degrees. And warmer air holds more moisture, which means more evaporation from soils and dead trees, fueling the possibility for more intense wildfires.

Outdoor recreation is the bread and butter for our local economies – what happens when we can’t enjoy the things we love to do outside? Well, to use winter as an example, research from advocacy group Protect Our Winters (POW) found that in years with less than average snowfall, fewer people ski and ride, which results in reduced revenue and job losses. Put simply, snow is white gold. And when there’s less of it, our “skiconomies” suffer.

We’re all on team planet earth

The good news is there are over 50 million Americans that identify as skiers, snowboarders, climbers, runners, hikers and bikers. What if we all – no matter our politics – united in defense of the outdoors?  Because shouldn’t environmental protection and climate action be non-partisan issues? Shouldn’t we all want clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment?

The truth is that most of us do. Every year, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication releases public opinion maps on climate change. Turns out the majority of Americans think climate change is happening, that it’s primarily caused by human activities, and that it will harm future generations. So a key strategy for having these conversations with your friends is to find out what they care about and build from there – in this case, it sounds like a shared love of skiing is a good place to start. And for your own sanity, prioritize talking to friends who would actually be willing to engage in dialogue.

Conversations like these are what Jeremy Jones, professional snowboarder and founder of POW, sought out in his 2020 film, Purple Mountains. To bring this discussion to Summit County, POW and High Country Conservation Center are teaming up to show Purple Mountains at the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center on Tuesday, October 19 at 7 PM. Following the film, there will be an in-person Q&A with Jeremy Jones himself, so you can ask him how he’d recommend talking to your friends. Even better, bring your friends with you. Tickets are free but must be reserved online on our website. If the event sells out, you can find a link to rent the film on the same webpage.

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