Imagine a ski trip where your skis run over rocks instead of fresh powder, or going to your favorite pond for ice skating or ice fishing only to find the ice brittle and not thick enough to support you or your ice shanty. A winter like this would be disappointing, and yet in some places it is already happening. If you are snowed in on the East Coast right now this might seem far-fetched, but if you are in California, and itching to go skiing but the drought is limiting your ski season, you might be wondering if climate change is at work . There is some good news, however, sporting association that depend on stable winter weather are already taking steps to minimize their impact and engaging a diverse audience of winter sports enthusiasts to help protect the climate. Even more good news – so far their efforts are showing promising results.
The National Hockey League (NHL) has been praised for its efforts as the first professional sports leagues to address climate change and its own impact. The NHL sees the threat of climate change and unpredictable seasons as a threat to the sport itself. While the NHL teams might play in indoor stadiums, outdoor access to skating is vital for the development of future NHL players. The frozen ponds of cold climates are where many future NHL stars are born.
In 2010 the league took action and launched a NHL Green initiative and in 2014 and released a NHL Sustainability report. In addition to looking at their own carbon footprint, the NHL looked at the results of their fan engagement campaign. What they found is encouraging for anyone hoping to bridge the gap to a more mainstream audience. They found that their fans were 11 times more likely to recycle, 13 times more likely to buy locally grown food, 19 times more likely to donate time or money to environmental causes and 20 times more likely to pay more for eco-friendly products and services.
Similarly, ski resorts are also concerned about climate change and the future of their businesses and the sport.
In 2000, through the National Ski Areas Associate (NSAA), an Environmental Charter was adopted by ski areas across the county. The Charter, which is often referred to as “Sustainable Slopes,” also sees climate change as a threat to the environment and their business. While ski areas don’t tend to have large carbon footprints, they do have the ability to reach and educate many people who enjoy snow activities as part of their winter recreation.
Even armchair winter sports enthusiasts can see how climate change is creating a different world. Viewers of the 2010 Vancouver and the 2014 Sochi Olympics may remember that snow was helicoptered in Vancouver or the rain at Sochi. A study released by the University of Waterloo, Management Center Innsbuck and the Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change, found that by the end of the century of the 19 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics only 6 would have the right conditions to host the games again.
Winter sports are going to be very different in the next few generations, but these changes also offer an opportunity to engage sports enthusiasts who may not realize the urgency to fight climate change. Whether you like to get out in the cold, or only watch cold weather sports every 4 years during the Winter Olympics the changing climate is going to change what you do and see.