ROCKFORD (WREX) — With our climate and the warming winter season, winter sports could have impacts in the near future.
When you think of winter sports, you probably think of skiing and snowboarding on your local hill or ski resort. Almost all hills and ski resorts make their own snow, but what if there is no snow?
We spoke to Chestnut Mountain Resort Marking Manager Stewart Stoffregen about the conditions needed to make artificial snow.
“Our magic number to make snow is 28°F. We have 5 huge pumps in the Mississippi River that we pump through 72 cannons up the hill here to make snow, so once we get that magic number , we can make a lot of snow in a hurry” says Stroffregen.
When we see above-average temperatures, however, resorts won’t be able to rely on artificial snow for the solution. As temperatures continue to warm, these local ski resorts will begin to face temporary closures, which Chestnut has already experienced this season.
“We were open the first two weekends, then we had to close because of the weather…we had to close for a bit, but we were now 100% open, all of our slopes are open, and our base is well between 40 to 60 inches” says Stroffregen.
Stoffregen also mentioned that the mountain tries to make as much snow when that magic number hits, but it takes enough for it to be during hot spells. With above average temperatures likely to remain, the mountains of the Midwest are trying to keep up with warmer periods.
“Winter is shorter, and already in the last 60 years we have seen winters warming by about 5° on average. There will be fewer cold snaps and cold snaps will not be as cold anymore than before”
We spoke to Elizabeth Maroon, assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, about why our winters are getting warmer. She says winters are the fastest warming season and will see even more changes as they evolve in the future.
“You take the thermometers all over the world, average it together, it’s warmed over the last century. It’s warmed about a degree Celsius, or about 2°F,” Maroon says.
These warming conditions will begin to impact winter sports in several ways according to Maroon. From seeing less natural snowfall, to fewer cold snaps, to an even shorter winter season.
“That’s the problem is it’s getting warmer, so you’re going to have the start of the winter recreational season going forward and you’re going to melt earlier, you’re going to reduce the time you have available,” Marron said. .
Artificial snow will only be a temporary solution as some hills in the Midwest are already feeling the effects of warmer winters.
“For example, I grew up in St. Louis, my parents are volunteer ski patrollers on the local hill. They didn’t patrol during the holiday season this year. They didn’t open until after Christmas, which for a bit of a hill like this is a big season for them. It won’t be possible for places like this to continue in the near future if we continue on the path we were on.
If temperatures continue to rise, these favorable snow conditions, as well as less natural snowfall overall, could be lost.
Maroon adds a positive note saying, “There is hope, we are not locked into this future, we can walk a different path.”
There is still hope that we can turn back the clock on climate change so that winter athletes and hiking enthusiasts can continue to enjoy the trails.