Snow-free ski area
Mount Baker Ski Area in Washington has had its troubles, and whether they have anything to do with the opportunities in the Arctic Ocean is an open question.
The ski area closed on Sunday, March 8, because of insufficient snow. The ski area has an average annual snowfall of 641 inches, among the most of any ski area in the country.
In Colorado, meanwhile, a conference held at Beaver Creek examined the opportunities represented by the melting of the Arctic Ocean. Gary Roughead, a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy, pointed out that 30 percent of the world’s estimated natural gas reserves are found in the Arctic, as well as sizable oil deposits.
In his presentation at the Vail Global Energy Forum, Roughead presented a graphic showing the iceflow over the Arctic in recent years. It waxes in winter, of course, and wanes in summer. But the ice-free component of summer has been growing rapidly.
That means ships have been able to use the Arctic to get between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This is shorter than the routes through the Southern Hemisphere or using the Panama and Suez canals.
But ice remains and, said Roughead, it’s a lot like politics: it’s very local and hard to predict. Container-ship transport remains risky.
The question hanging over both Mt. Baker’s lack of snow and the withering Arctic ice is how much either is a reflection of human-caused climate change.
Baker’s woes are those of just one winter, and scientists are undecided about how much to blame the West Coast drought on greenhouse gas emissions. But the Arctic meltdown is easily enough linked.
Is this meltdown a problem? Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, said polling suggests that climate change “feels very distant to people” and hence doesn’t become a high priority for action.
Dimock also noted that there’s a giant gap among countries and their perception of climate change as a significant problem. In Brazil, 76 percent of people think it’s a problem, and in Canada 55 percent. Down the list are the United States at 40 percent and China at 39 percent.
“It’s interesting that the two largest carbon emitters in the world are down at the bottom of the list about professed concern about climate change,” he said.
The conference was not all doom and gloom, however. Photovoltaic solar energy has come on in a major way. Ahmad Chatila, president and chief executive of SunEdison, spoke about the cost of electricity from collectors dropping to 10 cents a kilowatt-hour and likely to drop soon to 5 cents by the end of the decade, maybe even 2 to 4 cents.
Advances in battery storage have been brisk. These and other technological breakthroughs suggest that it’s possible that global carbon emissions into the atmosphere may slow.
Spring runoff in February
HAILEY, Idaho – In the past, the peak snowpack in the Wood River Valley has occurred, on average, on April 1. That’s the valley where Ketchum and Sun Valley are located.
But come 2070? It will be a different story, according to a study conducted by the Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Research Consortium. Their modeling suggests the peak snowpack will occur as early as mid-February.
Instead of snow, there will be more rain. Winters will get shorter.
“This isn’t to say that we’re getting less moisture overall,” said John Stevenson, a member of the research consortium, in a presentation at Hailey. “But it changes how we’re going to get it, which has impacts for streamflows,” he added. “Snowpacks will be smaller, but more important is that they’re going to melt off earlier in the year.”
Currently, nearly 60 percent of the annual precipitation around Sun Valley falls in the form of snow.
Panhandlers, mind your manners
TELLURIDE, COLO. – The Telluride Town Council is expected to sharply restrict panhandling. The law, discussed since last summer, would prohibit panhandling from just after sunset to just before sunrise, as well as panhandling in an aggressive, intimidating, or threatening manner.
The proposed law, reports the Telluride Daily Planet, also has a great many other thou-shalt-nots: no soliciting money within 20 feet of a public restroom or automated teller machine.
In drafting the regulations, the city staff studied panhandling ordinances already in place in New York City, Kalamazoo, Mich., and other cities.
Town attorney Kevin Geiger noted that he sought to balance First Amendment protections of free speech with limitations on time and places that would be considered reasonable.
Ski resorts for sale
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Do you know who owns your favorite ski area? If it’s Colorado’s Crested Butte, Utah’s Brighton, or California’s Sierra-at-Tahoe, the owner is CNL Lifestyle Properties, which has 15 other properties, mostly in New England.
CNL is a real estate investment trust that, according to the Associated Press, is considering getting out of the snow business. The REIT expects to have an “exit strategy” in place by the end of this year.
Who will buy the resorts? Michael Krongel, from Mirus Resort Capital in Burlington, Mass., suggested it has to be somebody with patience. They can be good investments, but they are at the mercy of weather and the economy.
One ski area executive told the AP that the sale will be a nonevent for consumers at the various resorts.
In Crested Butte, long-time resident Jim Schmidt concurred. “The sale will be just like a bank who holds your mortgage getting sold,” said Schmidt, a town councilman. “I don’t think it will affect a thing.”
The Chinese are coming!
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo.— Jackson Hole’s most conspicuous visitors last year were from China. They arrived on tour buses, went shopping in groups, and spent money like they had lots of it.
There’s more coming behind them. Bloomberg News reports that there were 109 million tourists from China last year. By 2019, there will be 174 million Chinese tourists, most of them younger millennials, or those who are 25 to 34 years old. The next largest cohort will be even younger, 15 to 24.
Analysis by Bank of America Merrill Lynch compares it to when the Japanese began traveling 30 years ago. “In our view, this is going to be bigger and will last longer given China’s population of 1.3 billion vs. Japan’s population of 127 million.”