Little skiing at proposed GAS resort: scientist 

climate change impacts assessments for ski resorts

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There will be no skiing at the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish (GAS) resort by the end of this century if humanity doesn't act to control rapidly rising greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.

Winter temperatures will be simply too warm for skiing there.

That's according to climate scientist Dr. Michael Pidwirny, associate professor with the University of British Columbia-Okanagan Campus.

"No matter what we do, the probability of getting warm winters is increasing with time due to global warming," said Pidwirny. "Even the best-case scenario, where the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rises slowly until 2070 and then begins falling, it still means that a typical winter in 2095 has about a 50 per cent chance of being warmer than last year (the devastating 2014-15 ski season) and I doubt the resort would be viable for skiing at that level of warmth."

Pidwirny has just completed a climate change impact assessment report for GAS. It is one of 30 such reports he is working on for Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), the organization that has voiced its concerns over the proposed four-season ski resort on Brohm Ridge, just north of Squamish.

He is doing one for Whistler as well.

"(GAS is) going to be warmer than Whistler in the future, slightly, but not as warm as Cypress but... by the end of the century you probably won't ski there," he said. "What use is it to propose a several-billion-dollar development if the development won't be functional in the future?"

CWSAA is asking the same questions of government. It has forwarded the climate change report to the province, which is in the process of reviewing the project for an environmental assessment certificate. A decision is expected this fall and, if GAS is successful, the certificate is one more step forward in the approvals process.

"We're aware of weather cycles and from inception we're planning (GAS) as an all-season resort," said Jim Chu, vice president, special projects and partnerships of the Aquilini Investment Group.

When asked why they're proposing a ski resort, in particular, in light of the challenges of climate change, Chu added: "There is snow up there... But we're not having all our eggs in one basket. We will look at amenities and recreational opportunities that are available all year round."

The GAS proposal includes the development of 22,000 bed units on Brohm Ridge, with a permanent population of 8,000 people. This includes hotels and pensions and single-family homes and condos.

After last season's relatively snowless ski year in western Canada, CWSAA signed a collaborative research agreement with UBC, Okanagan, for the series of climate change reports on individual resorts, heli-ski areas and proposed resorts.

This was part of the organization's formal climate change policy.

"Part of our climate change policy, what we're encouraging the government to do, is take climate change into account in approving new resorts," said David Lynn, CWSAA president.

"In simple terms, we believe that new resorts should be built in a manner that reflects where we think the climate might be 50 years from now as opposed to 50 years ago. And that suggests some combination of higher elevations, higher latitudes and superior slope elevations."

The GAS climate report, which he received about a week ago, wasn't surprising, said Lynn.

"Intuitively, if you look at the elevations of Garibaldi at Squamish, the fact that it's close to the coast and you take into account latitude as well, it's highly questionable why you would be building a new resort at that location, in my mind, from a climate change perspective," he added.

When asked if the government has done any climate change impact studies, a media spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operation emailed this response: "If the proposed project receives an Environmental Assessment Certificate, it will undergo a master plan review by the ministry's Mountain Resorts branch and the technical feasibility of the project (including impacts of climate change on the proposed operations) will be assessed at that time."

The Mountains Resorts branch confirmed it has received a copy of Pidwirny's report but has yet to fully review it.

Based on Pidwirny's scientific analysis, if B.C. wants a coastal ski resort that would have similar climate to what Whistler had from the 1960s to the 1990s, its base elevation would have to be 2,000 metres.

"That says it all," said Pidwirny. "And the base elevation of Garibaldi is only 1,000 (metres). They don't even get to 2,000 (metres) at their proposed peak elevation.

"Humanity is not facing the climate change problem at all... The government needs to ask: does it make economic sense to allow for the development of a resort that's going to be having a hard time in 50 to 100 years?"


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