Ski resorts brace for warmer temperatures in Western Canada

The seasonal forecast for ski hills in the west shows temperatures warmer than average, which is OK for Alberta but not so great for B.C. hills, according to a climatologist.

Alberta resorts better positioned but outlook is downhill for B.C. operators

"For the coastal resorts, by 2050, the winter that we had last year could become the normal," warms climatologist, Michael Pidwirny. (Paul Karchut/CBC)

Some ski hills in British Columbia could be in for another rocky year thanks to a warmer winter, says a climatologist, but it should be less of a problem for Alberta ski resorts, which tend to sit at higher elevations. 

"Last year, monthly temperatures were between 3 to 5 C warmer than they should have been," said UBC Okanagan associate professor Michael Pidwirny, who studies how climate change affects ski resorts in North America.

This winter, temperatures are expected to be a degree or two above normal, according to Pidwirny, who produced the latest forecasts for the Canada West Ski Association meeting in Banff.

That shouldn't be cause for major concern in Alberta, where "they have cold temperatures to begin with," said Pidwirny.

While the forecast is an improvement over last season, which Pidwirny said marked "the warmest year in the climatological records that we have for Western Canada that date back to about 1900," it still has some operators worried about the long-term viability of their snow-dependent businesses.

"I think there's a bit of nervousness in light of the season that we just had," said David Lynn, head of the Canada West Ski Areas Association.

Michael Pidwirny, a climatologist at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna, is forecasting warmer temperatures and average precipitation for the ski season. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

"That's why we want to bring the science forward and tell people that the best forecast we have suggests that we might have a slightly warmer than average year this year, but we don't expect that we're going to have a season like the one we experienced last year," he said.

That's welcome relief for Alberta's bigger resorts in the Banff and Jasper areas, Lynn noted.

"Because of their high elevations, I think that there's a good chance that they will have a good season, that it will be better than what we experienced last year," he said.

'Canary in the coal mine'

Climatologist Michael Pidwirny says skiing is an example of how climate change can affect socio-economic activity. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

But the still warmer-than-normal forecast is worrying for B.C. operators, in particular, as it could be part of a larger trend, according to Pidwirny.

"For the coastal resorts, by 2050, the winter that we had last year could become the normal," he warned.

"Skiing is dependent on climate. It's the canary in the coal mine," he said. "It's going to be one of the first sort of socio-economic activities that humans do that's going to show how climate change can affect it."

"What occurred last year will become more frequent, but it's really hard to say how much more frequent."

With files from the CBC's Allison Dempster


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