One of these locations is Squaw Valley, in the Sierra Nevada, California, where the 1960 Winter Olympics were held. Now known as Palisades Tahoe, it is one of the local resorts for professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones.
A legend of big mountain freeriding — who has earned Snowboarder Magazine the title of Big Mountain Snowboarder of the Year 11 times — Jones has spent much of his life on top of mountains, cutting off their steepest faces too with a spray of powder in his wake. Over his three-decade career, he has experienced first-hand the effects of climate change.
Jones says he’s watched it rain on mountaintops in the dead of winter and glaciers disappear over time. “Winters often start later, end earlier, and (there are) just more extremes of everything,” he says. “We get half a season of snow in three days and then we have two months without snow.”
Wanting his grandchildren and great-grandchildren to experience snowy winters, Jones felt compelled to act. “I saw changes in the winter and it affected my lifestyle,” he says. “But over time I started to notice that the effects far outweigh my lifestyle. It’s not just my livelihood, but all these mountain communities around winter and snow.”
To bring the winter sports community together as a unified voice on climate change, he founded Protect Our Winters in 2007. The charity lobbies governments around the world for stronger climate policies and today has a network of more than 130,000 supporters.
The cost of no snow
In 2017, Jones went from wearing ski pants on the slopes to a suit on Capitol Hill, as he was called to testify before Congress about the impact of climate change on the snowsports community.
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Less snow means further global warming, explains Anne Nolin, a University of Nevada snow hydrologist and member of the Protect Our Winter science alliance. Because snow is white, it reflects most of the sunlight that hits it, but when it melts and exposes the ground beneath, that dark surface absorbs solar energy.
“In recent decades, snow layers have started to melt earlier and earlier, so we have a drier, dry season,” she adds, which could lead to serious wildfires, such as the 2021 Caldor fire that devastated the Tahoe Basin. Wildfires exacerbate the situation, she says, destroying the canopy that normally covers the snow, meaning it melts sooner.
Despite what Nolin describes as “this great vicious circle,” she has hope for the future. “Nature is resilient and things grow back,” she says, explaining that more effective management of forests can help preserve snow cover.
“If you open up the forest to some extent, you can increase the snow that accumulates on the ground because it doesn’t get trapped in the canopy,” she says. “And if you can maintain a healthy forest with a healthy canopy around those gaps by the time spring sets in, that forest can continue to shade the snowpack, perhaps making it last longer.”
Jones hopes policymakers will seek solutions, such as renewable energy, that will reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.
A Winter Olympics without real snow illustrates the future predicament of snow sports, but Jones emphasizes that the impact is much greater than that.
“The work I do is for future generations, so hopefully I can look at my children and grandchildren and say, you know what? I got this opportunity and did everything I could to get us on the right path — so not only you can slide on snow, but you have a healthy planet,” he says.