Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

It’s ski season–but in recent years rising temperatures have made it harder for resorts in New England to rely on natural snow.  Instead, they have to make it.  

But what’s the environmental impact of all that artificial snow?

Here to tell us more are Charlie Adams and Marin Warshay from our Possibly Team. 

Charlie Adams: Hi, Megan! 

Marin Warshay: Hello! 

Megan Hall: Why is artificial snow becoming so popular? It seems like all the slopes near me rely on it.

Charlie Adams: In a nutshell, rising temperatures have shortened winter seasons, and storms bring rain more often than snow.

Marin Warshay: By 2050 the U.S. ski season in some areas is expected to be cut in half. 

Charlie Adams: To stay in business, many New England resorts depend on artificial snow. The same is true of Europe, and even the lower elevation resorts in the Rockies.

Megan Hall: Geez I didn’t realize it was such a widespread problem. What exactly is artificial snow?

Marin Warshay: It’s typically made with a “snow cannon.” Water droplets are blown at high pressures into the air where they freeze and fall to the ground as snow. 

Charlie Adams: This allows resorts to blanket their slopes in frozen white stuff even when snowfall is low.

Megan Hall: Seems like you’d need a lot of snow cannons to cover all the resorts! 

Marin Warshay: You bet! Resorts range in size from a couple dozen to a couple thousand skiable acres.

Megan Hall: So what’s the impact of all that snow creation?

Charlie Adams: Covering one acre with a foot of snow takes around 200,000 gallons of water. And while resorts also rely on natural snowfall– they’re still using millions of gallons. 

Marin Warshay: In fact, most of the large East Coast ski resorts use about 250 million gallons of water during a single season. 

Charlie Adams: Not to mention snowmaking tends to be the largest consumer of energy at a resort. 

Megan Hall: Is there any way to reduce the amount of energy and water ski resorts need for snowmaking?

Marin Warshay: Well, some resorts are investing in renewable energy and more efficient snow-machines. To learn more we spoke with Kate Matthews, Sustainability Coordinator at Sunday River Skiway in Maine. 

Kate Matthews:  “Last year, we replaced 121 guns with new energy efficient ones…” “…we can empower about three to five of these guns with the same energy required to power one of the older ones.”

Charlie Adams: Since 2000, many of the country’s largest resorts have committed to rethink the way they use energy and water. So far they’ve reduced their emissions by nearly 130,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Megan Hall: Is that a lot?

Marin Warshay: It’s the equivalent of the yearly carbon emissions of about 8,000 Americans.

Charlie Adams: But no matter how efficient we make artificial snow production, the days of skiing in New England are numbered.

Megan Hall: Wait, there won’t be skiing at all even with artificial snow?

Marin Warshay: Snowmaking machines only work if temperatures are well below freezing, otherwise they are just blowing water droplets.  

Charlie Adams: And we’re getting fewer and fewer nights when it’s cold enough to make snow.

Marin Warshay: New England winters are warming faster than most places. Winters in Providence, RI are already 4 degrees F warmer than they were in 1970, and in Burlington, Vermont winters have warmed by 7 degrees!

Charlie Adams: Ski resorts can invest in more efficient and less water intensive snow-making techniques all they want, but in the end, the future of New England skiing looks pretty bleak.

Marin Warshay: That’s unless we take quick and drastic steps to address climate change. It’s one of the many local effects of this global problem.

Megan Hall: It does seem like the end of an era is in sight – not a happy message. But thanks Charlie and Marin! 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Possibly is a co-production of The Public’s Radio, Brown University’s Institute for Environment and Society and  Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative.

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