Leading climate-aware ski resorts are preparing and adapting to handle climate change and what to expect for the future of Utah’s winters. On Nov. 12, Seth and Hilary Aarons discussed this to a roomful of concerned students, faculty, alumni and community members.

Seth Aarons works for the Western Water Assessment, which is based in Colorado and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Seth’s organization works to prepare the United States of America for climate change; Seth Aaron’s specialty at the moment is studying specifically in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Seth Aarons works with resource managers on local, state and governmental levels.

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A view of Salt Lake City, Utah, from the peak of Snowbird Ski Resort. (Flickr)

Seth Aarons has been studying 80 to 90 years of data collected by snow course sites throughout the state, specifically looking into the trends of snow water equivalent. Some of this precipitation data is invaluable to water managers. The data projects that we will be experiencing shorter winters and more rainfall at lower elevations and winters starting later and lasting less time with the continued temperature rises.

“Of the large drivers in changes in snow water equivalent, precipitation is not changing, so temperature is playing a large role in the snow water equivalent,” Seth Aarons said, “The highest temperature increases we are seeing in the state are Salt Lake County and Southeastern UT.”

Utah has significantly higher elevations. However, many of the surrounding states have much lower elevations, which will result in more fire hazard areas and dangers of drought conditions. Utah is not safe from ramifications of temperature rise.

There are a lot of societal aspects that this current climate trend will bring along with it, and its impacts on outdoor recreation and snow sports recreation will certainly affect the economies of both these industries.

Hilary Aarons, who is currently at the helm of Snowbird Ski Resort’s sustainability efforts, uses Protect Our Winters as a template to guide her work up at Snowbird.

“Protect our Winters has a 7-part roadmap to sustainability: 1) Define Your Biggest Lever; 2) Get Political; 3) Educate Yourself; 4) Speak Up; 5) Talk to Business; 6) Change Your Ways; 7) Join Protect our Winters,” Aarons said.

Snowbird uses its status in Utah’s winter snow industry to help spread the word and educate the public about ski resort-oriented sustainability programs like the National Ski Area Association. There are about 406 ski areas and only about 40 participate in the climate challenge.

The climate challenge for the resorts is very revealing as to their current carbon footprints and is a way for those resorts to be held accountable. Being involved with the National Ski Area Association also requires writing to the legislature regarding why climate change is concerning. Initiatives like this are certainly a step towards accountability.

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