03/20/2013 05:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Downhill Race to Save Winter


I'm a skier and I speak for the snow. Like the Lorax who speaks for the trees, my internal snow globe is worried. Skiers, snowboarders -- and families, depend on powdery frozen water to feed their winter souls. Flakes shook up the skies a few times this winter here in the Northeast, but the ski industry has taking a nosedive. Snow sport enthusiasts all over the world can no longer expect a long "freestyle" winter's ride.

According to a survey taken by the National Ski Areas Association, last year's warm weather and low snowfall dropped visitors to ski resorts by almost 16 percent, the sharpest decline in more than 30 years. At least 11 of the nation's 486 resorts went out of business. The survey concluded that "long-term climate change" was a factor.

Our children are experiencing a spiraling downhill decline to winter. But there's hope!

Protect Our Winters mission is "to engage and mobilize the winter sports community to lead the fight against climate change. Our focus is on educational initiatives, activism and the support of community-based projects."

I asked Protect Our Winters' Executive Director, Chris Steinkamp, to explain the challenges and solutions to saving winter.

MCAF: How does climate change impact skiers and the ski industry?

Chris: While many think that we're doing this to save your powder days, that only a small part of the story. To us, snow is currency. Climate change has a huge economic impact on the winter sports community in regards to jobs, larger industry companies and small businesses in tourist-dependent states. For example, snow-based recreation contributes $66 billion annually to the U.S. economy and supports 556,000 jobs. That's serious business and when it doesn't snow, a lot of us are worried about our jobs and our communities. Many climate change opponents say that solving climate change is a "jobs killer" but to us, climate change is a jobs killer.

How does POW respond to people who say, "We have yearly fluctuations in snowfall, why is it so urgent that we do something now?"

I always say that what's outside our window is weather, not climate. To accurately assess climate change, you need to look at the long-term trends. The last decade was the warmest on record for example, and 2012 was the warmest on record in the U.S. Experts also say that with climate change will come some extreme weather in form of floods, tornadoes and snowstorms. As the weather warms though, that snow will be rain. Be glad that its snowing today, but take a long look at the problem.

Why is driving policy change/legislation so important?

It's where we're going to solve this. The solution to solving climate change is by stopping the burning of fossil fuels, specifically burning coal and oil. The best way to stop the emissions for our coal fired power plants is to exercise federal policy that does that. We should have a form of cap and trade program for carbon intensive businesses, but that will only come through climate legislation.

What does protecting the Clean Air Act have to do with winter sports?

Carbon dioxide is regulated as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The federal government has the ability, today, to limit the amount of carbon dioxide being released from coal-burning power plants under the Clean Air Act. With less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we have our winters back. And our jobs.

How are the ski areas adapting?

Ski areas need to be doing more. Some of them are focused on "greening" their resorts, but really, that's more of financial benefit to them than a climate-fighting benefit. They need to be more vocal to mobilize their customers the right way, and also take the influence that they have to their elected officials. They're a major tax paying business in their respective states and have immense influence on policy. That's really what they need to do, unfortunately, too many are scared to tackle climate change and are ignoring it, or are worried more about using plastic forks in their cafeteria.

Skiing is not the greenest of sports. How can we offset the carbon footprint expended in destination travel, fueling chair lifts, snowmaking?

We know that nobody is perfect, and you don't have to be. We can all be smarter about how we access our favorite resorts. Think about carpooling, taking buses or taking fewer, but longer trips to the mountains. In order to most effectively offset your carbon footprint, take the POW 7 Pledge on our website. It's seven things that anyone can do to fight climate change and offset some of the things that they're not proud of.

What can parents and kids do to help?

Unfortunately, our children are the ones who are going to be left with this problem. So, that's why we spend a ton of time teaching kids about climate change and providing them with the tools to become the next generation of environmental leaders. Kids can get their parents to care. Parent can vote for the right candidates and also purchase products from companies that care about the environment. And they can also support Protect Our Winters.

Thank you Chris, and MCAF partner Protect Our Winters!

Protect our children from harmful air pollution!

Photo: Shutterstock