To ski or not to ski, that is a question

skiing_on_fake_snow.jpgA question that may soon be answered for us, at least in the southeastern USA.

Now this may seem like a frivolous question (certainly not, you might argue, worthy of perverting Shakespeare), and in the grand scheme of things, yes, it is.  But bear with me.  And I know, also, that harping on climate change is like picking a scab. People get tired of hearing about it.  But there is a lesson here about real people and real jobs, in the very real near future.  Not just in Bangladesh and small island nations with the water creeping up on their homes.  Here in Virginia.

Take an example. As a recovering workaholic, I have in the last few years warmed up to regular vacations.  So this past long weekend, with the boy out of school Monday and Tuesday, we packed off to West Virginia for a couple of days of skiing. It was great fun and, given that I took up skiing a mere year ago in my mid-forties, I am thankful and relieved that no lives (or limbs) were lost.

But, I must say, the ambience was a bit of a disappointment.  Everywhere you look — apart from the banked up lanes of fake snow on the slopes — the Appalachian vistas were brown and muddy. This is the middle of February in what passes for high altitudes in eastern North America, on the Presidents’ Day weekend that is traditionally the biggest ski time of the year (so I’m told).  The first day out the temperatures were in the fifities.  On one ride up the chair lift, I sat with a young guy from western North Carolina. He had been coming to this site (Winterplace, West Virginia) for seven years and told me that this was the worst he’d seen it. Now that is not a scientific survey, admittedly.  But you gotta wonder: How much longer can this be kept up?  How much longer can this industry survive?

You won’t be surprised to hear that my guess is: not very long.

Climate projections for this neck o’ the woods generally predict both warmer temperatures and less precipitation.  I have to confess that, among the other reasons for taking my son skiiing last year, one was to leave him with this war story for his incredulous grandchildren: “When I was a lad, we went skiing in Virginia!” I strongly suspect that this will sound like a fantasy to them.

So enough already. We know the climate is changing.  What’s to be done?  This is a microcosm of the challenges we face in responding constructively to climate change. I ruminated about this in between hot chocolates and visions of my leg being twisted 180 degrees on a particularly terrifying downslope plunge. How will these already poverty-stricken communities adapt to a world where there is no longer enough snow to support the ski industry, and the only other major industry — coal — has packed its carpetbags and buggered off?  Where the latter has not blasted the tops off the mountains and left them for dead, there might be hope of developing whitewater rafting, or trout fishing, or desperately needed nature camps for kids, or conceivably some sort of eco-tourism.  But will that be enough?  I’d be interested to hear ideas about this.

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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5 Responses to To ski or not to ski, that is a question

  1. Tripp says:


  2. Emmett Duffy says:

    Caught me, Tripp — touche!

  3. Zachary Long says:

    I agree that West Virginia has tremendous potential as a destination for nature lovers. Unfortunately, I noticed that the state slogan has recently changed from “Wild and Wonderful” to “West Virginia, open for business.” Along those lines, my wife worked on studies of the recovery of plant communities in mined areas, and was told repeatedly industry reps that mountain top removal was great because it created nice, flat areas that could then be converted into golf courses or new wal-marts.

  4. Emmett Duffy says:

    Zac:I guess you’ve got to give the governor credit for not beating around the bush with “open for business”. I also noticed that they call the long stretch of highway I was on the “technology corridor” which was a bit amusing, given that I didn’t see any technology other than the odd satellite dish along the way. Recently I saw a presentation by Mountain Justice Summer about mountaintop removal. It was horrific. Once the soil is gone, replaced by sterile gravel, about the only things that can grow there are Wal-Marts. And invasive weeds.

  5. Kevin says:

    The drought will spread from Atlanta, GA and California to other parts of the U.S. until it will probably be too late to counter.

    We must reduce carbon emmisions – it is as simple as that!