Could regular skiing in southwestern B.C. be a thing of the past by 2050?

Click to play video: 'Dire future predicted for ski hills on B.C.’s South Coast'
Dire future predicted for ski hills on B.C.’s South Coast
Climate scientists are warning this winter's terrible conditions on south coast ski hills are a foretaste of the coming decades as climate change continues. Travis Prasad reports. – Jan 5, 2024

With warm winter temperatures still making headlines in much of southern B.C., experts are warning that regular skiing and snowboarding on the North Shore could be a thing of the past by as early as 2050.

Unless governments take substantive action to cut back on the polluting greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, Michael Pidwirny said conditions will get “progressively worse,” and likely, bring an end to the beloved winter pastime on lower-altitude mountains in this part of the province.

Click to play video: 'Climate change could devastate B.C. ski hills as early as 2050 scientists say'
Climate change could devastate B.C. ski hills as early as 2050 scientists say

“Cypress, Grouse, Seymour? They’re finished by 2050,” Pidwirny, an associate professor of Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences at UBC Okanagan, told Global News.

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“By 2085, if we continue with climate change, you won’t be able to ski on a reliable basis at Whistler.”

Global News reached out to all four ski resorts for comment on this story.

Click to play video: 'Businesses scrambling to adapt to mild winter'
Businesses scrambling to adapt to mild winter

Pidwirny, who studies the impacts of climate change on North American ski resorts, said hills across Canada and the U.S. have been affected by rising temperatures and the influence of climate patterns like El Niño and La Niña.

Many remember 2014 and 2015 as having among the worst ski seasons in recent memory in B.C., he added. That was when a pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation was in its “warm phase.”

“It also created very warm ocean conditions. There was all kinds of problems associated with that in terms of marine life,” Pidwirny explained.

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“So that’s my biggest worry, that we go from this cold phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation into the positive phase, and if that occurs, this winter may not be the worst — it could be next winter.”

Click to play video: 'Planning a ski trip? Canada’s mild winter keeps fewer hills open'
Planning a ski trip? Canada’s mild winter keeps fewer hills open

John Clague, a climate scientist and professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University’s Department of Earth Sciences, shared Pidwirny’s concerns. The periods of traditional winter weather seem to be starting between one and two months later than many are accustomed to, he observed.

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“My view is that it’s going to be increasingly difficult economically for those mountains to operate as they have in the past, with the assumption that they have four months of snow that you can ski on,” he said.

“They’ll be lucky if they can get two good months out of this winter.”

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While there may be exceptional winters here and there, he added, reliable extended ski and snowboard seasons are “a thing of the past,” he predicted. That means recreationalists may wish to target ski resorts with high-altitude bases, or think twice about gambling on a season’s pass.

Click to play video: 'No snow for B.C. ski hills'
No snow for B.C. ski hills

Earlier this week, Global News reported that several ski resorts in Canada are struggling with warm weather.

As of Wednesday, Blue Mountain in Ontario had just one of 11 runs open, and while Quebec’s Mont Tremblant had all of its lifts open, many of them only had about half of their runs open.

The Edge had opened one of seven and Versant Soleil had two out of 15 open.

Near Penticton, Apex Mountain Resort has said it’s seen a slower start to the 2023-2024 season than last year, with numbers significantly down from the previous season, when it was able to open a week earlier than normal.

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Whistler has around 18 of 27 runs open.

Click to play video: 'Snow-lacking season challenges Winnipeg skiers'
Snow-lacking season challenges Winnipeg skiers

Environment and Climate Change Canada research scientist Nathan Gillett said current warmer winter trends are projected to continue, even if emissions are reduced for the next several decades.

“If the world is successful to getting emissions to net-zero by around the middle of the century, then we expect temperatures to stabilize in the latter half of the century. Even in that scenario, we can expect the climate will be warmer than it is now,” Gillett said.

He was unsurprised by predictions of shorter ski seasons in the years to come.

Click to play video: 'Double digit temperatures means small crowds for local mountains'
Double digit temperatures means small crowds for local mountains

While patches of grass on ski hills are a visible symptom of climate change, all three scientists pointed to more dire consequences than limitations on winter sports.

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In the Lower Mainland in particular, Clague said less snow and ice means less cold water melts into rivers and streams, and those warm temperatures could devastate local fish stocks.

“If our rivers and streams become too hot, they’re unsuccessful at spawning. We saw that last year — huge amounts of mortality among migrating salmon, particularly coho around the coast,” said Clague, who specializes in glacier research.

“It also has an impact on BC Hydro, because the reservoirs that produce 85, 90 per cent of our electricity … if you don’t resupply them with melted snow and ice in the summer, that affects your bottom line.”

Click to play video: 'Carbon storage possibilities beneath Metro Vancouver'
Carbon storage possibilities beneath Metro Vancouver

It could all be chalked up to more severe, prolonged periods of summer drought, Clague added.

Pidwirny also worried about rising ocean levels that could swallow low-lying areas like Richmond, unless serious and meaningful intervention cuts emissions, fast.

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“The ski resorts are the canary in the coal mine, but humans are kind of silly because they’re not listening to the climate scientists who have been ringing this bell for 40 years,” he said.

“We’ve put enough warming in the system that within 100 years, even if we stop today, sea levels are going to rise by three metres.”

— with files from Cassidy Mosconi

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