What if there is no more snow on the lower parts of the mountain? If the winters are so short that tree runs will become a thing of the past? That the snow cover above the tree line becomes too thin to be able to ride safely? If ski areas will become more dependent on artificial snow than is already the case today? Is that a worst case scenario? And if so, for whom?
At wePowder we have avoided the climate discussion for years. With the motto: 'we are freeriders, we do no harm', we've kept ourselves silent for years. We love the outdoors, but do no harm? That's a little naive of course. I am doing more intensive research into the climate, the data and the possible consequences since four years. In particular, the role of mankind in the process of warming is denied by a (narrow) part of science. Suppose that this group is right. That global warming is a natural process and that we can not do anything about it? Then all our climate efforts are for nothing?
But what if the warming is (partly) due to people? What can I do as a freerider? Do I have to stop riding to stop global warming? And if so, it is very useful when I quit riding and the rest of the world happily continues warming up the earth. I have conducted this debate with myself as I behave myself in the mountains. Just as I wear an avalanche beacon and avoid a too risky slope in, so I have figured out that it can not hurt to assume that global warming is a realistic risk AND that we can do something about it. Better safe than sorry.
The winters of 2015, 2016 and 2017 had a particularly bad start. It was dry, too warm, and many resorts didn't have any snow during Christmas. Their investments in artificial snow paid off at the time. Although there was no sign of a real winter in many ski areas, many winter sports enthusiasts were very positive about the quality of the slopes and the snow. A lot of them had a great skiing holiday on the slopes. You could almost conclude that skiing and snowboarding without real snow is almost the same as with the real stuff.
However, in my opinion skiing and snowboarding need real snow. And not only skiing and snowboarding. Snow is necessary for water management in the mountains. Long winters provide a frozen water supply higher up the mountain that melts in the following seasons and is necessary for life in the mountains. If the snow melts earlier, if the water evaporates faster and if we artificially store water and use it to make artificial snow, then this has consequences for water management and life in the mountains. Already during the hot summers, parts of the mountains are spontaneously collapsing as a result of the disappearance of the permafrost higher up the mountain.
For us freeriders, the disappearance of the snow is an obvious problem, but even for the skiers and boarders who are happy with a strip of artificial snow it is a problem. The Alps are very sensitive to climate change. The average temperature in the Alps since 1850 has risen by almost two degrees celcius, which is almost twice as much as the global average.
Those who dive deeper into the data will find that the warming in the higher parts of the Alps now takes place mainly in the summer and autumn, while in the winter it is not too bad. (read more here). That is quite logical. The map below clearly shows that the snow falling in the winter tempers the rise in temperature during the winter in the higher parts of the Alps. The snow works as a fridge and keeps the low temperatures, but it's a different story in the valleys. The temperature already rises there and this result in less and less snow. If the period when there is snow in the higher parts of the Alps becomes shorter, than it could be a self-accelerating process with winters becoming shorter.
It has become warmer in the last decades worldwide and in the Alps too.
The eternal snow in the Alps is becoming increasingly scarce according to research by [Meteo Suisse](https://www.meteoswiss.admin.ch/home/climate/climate-change-in-switzerland/temperature-and-precipitation-trends. html), but it is also noticeable during the winter months. The snow line has risen with an average of 300 meters in recent decades, and according to a number of scenarios, the snow line in this century will be another 500 meters higher. With a further warming up you can think of the following consequences for winter sports:
I have been riding powder for decades and I probably will be able to keep on doing that for a few decades. The snow does not disappear from one day to the next, that goes slowly. There will still be winters with many PowderAlerts and winters with fewer PowderAlerts. Maybe I will have to be a bit more flexible in choosing my destination even more last minute, I might ride less in the trees and the winters probably will be shorter, but chances are I can ride powder until I'm a really old man. So, who cares? Or as Napoleon said; "After us the deluge." Life doesn't end without freeriding. In fact, the world survives people anyway. That was an easy idea, because it didn't place the responsibility by myself. Until it started to itch.
I have come to appreciate the mountains because they give me freedom. Choose a line yourself, make choices and ride down. No one who says that something is allowed or not. But that freedom also taught me that I have a responsibility. To the group of friends I'm traveling with, to myself and the people at home. An accident in the backcountry has consequences. Sometimes even with a fatal outcome. But also consequences in the sense that if we can not save ourselves, it's mountain rescue that put their lives into danger to rescue us.
The choices I make every day can have consequences for the mountains, the waves, in short the outdoors which I love to enjoy. It has made me realize that I have a responsibility.
I have been searching for answers the last 24 months. Suppose I can do something about global warming, can I make choices with less impact and in the meantime keep on riding powder? And if so, what consequences does this have in my daily life? I still do not have all the answers, but I want to share the process that I have gone through and are still going through.
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