Dr. John Pomeroy at his research station in Kananaskis Country on Thursday, 12 March 2015. According to Prof. Pomeroy, over the past 50 years, throughout most of Alberta and British Columbia's mountains, the average nightly low temperature in the middle of winter has increased at least 2 C near the coast and up to 5 C in parts of the Rockies. Photo: Todd Korol / The Globe and Mail

By Mike Hager
13 March 2015

(The Globe and Mail) – John Pomeroy had long sensed something was amiss with the Earth’s climate, but a balmy mid-winter rain shower in the Rockies finally offered him incontrovertible proof that dramatic changes were occurring.

It was 2005, and Prof. Pomeroy, one of Canada’s leading hydrologists, was re-establishing the Marmot Creek Research Basin that had been shut down in 1986 to make way for the development of the nearby Nakiska ski area in the lead-up to the Calgary Olympics.

“I was setting up a weather station there in January and it was 12 C and raining,” Prof. Pomeroy said. “I thought, ‘this is bizarre,’ and the lower elevations didn’t develop a snowpack that winter. When I started comparing our recent data to what they collected in the sixties and seventies and 1980s, the snowpacks at the lower elevations had dropped by half over that period of time.”

Over the past 50 years, throughout most of Alberta and British Columbia’s mountains, the average nightly low temperature in the middle of winter has increased at least 2 C near the coast and up to 5 C in parts of the Rockies, according to Prof. Pomeroy, a Canada Research Chair in water resources and climate change. That has shortened the spring ski season anywhere from four to six weeks at many hills, he said.

“It’s going to be the edge seasons – the fall and the spring – and the lower elevations and the sites that were already marginal that will be first affected [by climate change],” Prof. Pomeroy said. “The ski areas I’ve seen that are already in trouble … are the ones that are already adapting to it – they’re really good at snow making.” […]

David Lynn, president and CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), representing 135 ski areas and 153 industry suppliers, said that in the short term, warmer and wetter winters near B.C.’s coast could pull powder-hungry tourists further east to ski areas in the Okanagan and the Rockies, but the loss of low-lying resorts in the region will eventually hurt the viability of the entire industry.

This year, B.C.’s South Coast has gotten a glimpse of warm and wet ski seasons that experts say could be the norm in 35 years if worst-case emissions scenarios hold true. This season, a moderate El Nino system has soaked skiers and kept snowpacks so low that several mountains have temporarily closed or shut down completely. David Lynn, president and CEO of the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), representing 135 ski areas and 153 industry suppliers, said that in the short term, warmer and wetter winters near B.C.’s coast could pull powder-hungry tourists further east to ski areas in the Okanagan and the Rockies, but the loss of low-lying resorts in the region will eventually hurt the viability of the entire industry.

“If we lose significant numbers of resorts, particularly concentrated near large urban centres, that’s bad for the sport,” Mr. Lynn said.

He said that is already happening in California, where ski hills “hammered in recent years” by a prolonged drought have seen skier visits drop dramatically, while Colorado’s resorts had a record year last season. […]

Dr. Pomeroy says, “My hope is still that humanity will figure out alternatives as to how we create energy and reduce our impact, but right now we’re headed down a disastrous path.” [more]

Warmer weather in Alberta and B.C.’s mountains creating shorter ski season

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