During the annual Christmas tree lighting event at the Breckenridge Ski Resort in early December, thousands of people thronged Main Street under the blue sky.
The event was preceded by a dog show featuring hundreds of Bernese mountain dogs as well as a foot race with runners dressed in Santas and elves. When the sun finally set, the countdown began when the evergreen tree in the square was filled with gold.
The holiday scene was very different from what could have happened in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains: the much shorter skiing of 2050, with some places completely closed at the end of the century.
Few industries in Colorado are experiencing the effects of climate change than ever before the ski industry, which experts say could be a victim in the coming decades due to rising temperatures, severe droughts and massive veld fires.
Home to some of the world-famous skiers - such as Vail, Aspen and Snowmass - Colorado collects $ 5 billion a year in foreign sport profits. But many are wondering if the industry can withstand its enormous challenge.
Denver, owned by the Rockies, broke records this year when the average snowfall did not fall until Dis. 10, making 232 direct days without snow. Pitkin County, home to Aspen and Snowmass, has had 30 more free days this year than it did in 1980. And temperatures, even at night, prevent premature snowfall, which is important for a profitable holiday season.
The typical Rockies skiing season begins in early November and ends in early April, but a 2017 study in the journal Global Environmental Change found that almost all winter resorts in the US could see their duration decrease by 50 2050 percent, and by 80 percent by 2090 in some ski resorts.
The authors estimate that seasonal changes under extreme conditions could result in a loss of more than $ 2 billion by skating in the U.S.
Opinions vary among managers in 32 Colorado counties on how to deal with the problem, but most agree that what they are doing now does not work.
"We are failing miserably," said Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company and a 30-year-old mountaineer who was shocked by the increase in snowfall and premature migration, calling it the "March decline."
Schendler said he was deeply concerned when the Grizzly Creek Fire chewed 33,000 hectares near Aspen in 2020. It threatened the city and led to a mudslide near Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, temporarily blocking access to Aspen.
“At first my concern was that the industry would be hit by heat and lack of ice. But in the last four years, we have had two major fires, the catastrophe that engulfed the city, ”he said, referring to Grizzly Creek and Lake Christine Fire in 2018.
Greg Hanson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, said Colorado was experiencing short winter months when the first snow came late and the last snow fell earlier.
"We need temperatures below freezing to get that snow, and as temperatures rise, that's why winter is shorter," he said.
Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, a group of traders, said the snow was becoming increasingly unpredictable.
"Business doesn't like predictions," he said. "It's a big problem that exists in the ski industry."
Skiing is the largest economic engine in western Colorado and operates its second largest revenue generation, tourism, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.
Ski areas have been working hard to convert to renewable energy to generate electricity, conduct energy tests to track their progress and use water wisely because much of Colorado's water comes from the mountain snowpack.
Despite efforts by ski resorts to reach empty products, no waste and no operational impacts, Mills said it was not enough.
"We can all be free without carbon, and we will not break the problem," he said.
To that end, the industry is shifting its focus to pressuring policymakers to do more to combat climate change.
"This is not a problem we will solve in the area," Mills said. “And it is not a problem that the ski industry will solve. We want to be part of the solution, but we need action at the national and international levels. ”
Schendler was hopeful that President Joe Biden's end-of-life program, which was abandoned by Build Back Better, would succeed because it had invested $ 550 billion in climate-related programs that would put the US economy at risk of extinction by 2050.
Scientists say that without that kind of globalization, nations would not be able to limit climate change to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.5 degrees Celsius, and avoid its catastrophic consequences.
Lisa Whitaker, who lives in Summit County and works in Copper Mountain volunteer safety monitoring, is concerned that the late start of the season puts too many people in a very small area, increasing the risk of accidents.