July 06, 2007 Features & Images » Feature Story

Ski industry embracing climate change cause 

Trade group calls for federal action

By Allen Best

DENVER – Ski industry representative Michael Berry testified before a U.S. Senate committee in late May about global warming. His message was one he would not — could not — have given several years ago.

“We said it’s time for action,” said Berry, who is president of the National Ski Areas Association, “and it’s time for the U.S. government, instead of dragging its feet at every opportunity, to take a leadership role in this worldwide.”

Make no mistake: the ski industry is changing. Four years ago the industry’s response was a cautious public relations campaign called “Keep Winter Cool.”

Some ski areas more privately remained dubious, and others reserved comment. Berry’s organization, NSAA, operates on the basis of quasi-consensus.

Aspen was among the few major ski areas that talked loudly about global warming.

Now, as demonstrated by Berry’s testimony before the Senate, the industry is speaking forcefully to the issue of humanity’s role in the changing climate.

“I think the rest of the industry has come forward in a rather dramatic fashion in the last four or five years,” says Berry. “No doubt Aspen was in the vanguard then, but there’s not much difference in the industry now and what is going on at Aspen.”

Auden Schendler, the Aspen Skiing Co.’s executive director for community and environmental responsibility, agrees.

“There's been a sea change in the understanding of climate science, and the seriousness of the problem, within the ski industry in the last year.” Berry’s testimony before the Senate committee, he adds, “was exactly what I would have given. It's great to see this.”

California’s experience

The hearing was before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The chairwoman, California Senator Barbara Boxer, noted in her statement that the length of the snow season has decreased by 16 days from 1951 to 1996 in California and Nevada, according to a National Assessment report issued earlier this year.

California’s ski industry got off the climate-change fence five years ago, siding with legislators who wanted to mandate improved automobile efficiency.

“Our industry has graphic evidence that climate change is happening,” said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association. “We pretty much subscribe (to global warming theory) across the board.”

The exception is an unidentified ski area representative who argues that climate change has been hyped by media who have not paid sufficient evidence to contrary science. But that position is in the distinct minority in California, says Roberts. He views the issue as it might be in a court of law, namely: “Where is the preponderance of evidence?”

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