Skiers Worry Global Warming Could Crimp Careers

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A lack of snow in Europe has forced the cancellation of three World Cup ski races. Some ski lovers wonder what the future holds for the sport as the snowy season seems to shrink. Some are worried that global warming will eventually consign them to a life off of the slopes.


International ski racing officials yesterday canceled two more European events. The reason: not enough snow. Also scrapped: next month's men's downhill and super combined races in Val d'Isere, the famous French Alps resort. They're the latest on a growing list of weather-related cancellations. Worried ski racers and officials are wondering whether their sport is becoming a victim of global warming, as NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Scanning the event schedule on the International Ski Federation Web site is like checking the departure monitor at an airport shut down by stormy weather. Races in Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Italy - cancelled, cancelled, cancelled, cancelled.

Not enough snow, too much rain and warm temperatures in Europe have officials scrambling to find alternate race sites and racers, like American Steven Nyman, asserting that Europe is just part of a global climate problem.

Mr. STEVE NYMAN (Professional Skier): We travel around to Chile and we're deep in the Andes. And we see these glaciers every year, and we even - being there for three, four years - can watch them deplete like they're going away. And that's - it's very scary because our love is on the snow.

GOLDMAN: During a teleconference this week, Nyman was asked whether he thinks the European race cancellations are related to global warming. Definitely, he said. Climatologist Dr. Klaus Walter is a bit more measured.

Dr. KLAUS WALTER (Climatologist, University of Colorado): It's contributing as sort of the backdrop, but we're not going to have ski race cancellations and warm falls like this every year.

GOLDMAN: Because there are other factors at play, says Dr. Walter, who works at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Without getting too technical, there had been, over the past 10 years, natural climate variations specific to Europe. High-pressure systems over the continent have led to warmer summers and falls, says Dr. Walter, but also colder winters, which usually start right about now. If that trend continues and Europe gets some snow, the racing circuit might be able to recover from the current upheaval.

Meanwhile, the climate crisis appears to be recasting the ski-hard, party-harder image of Alpine ski racers. On the teleconference, Ted Ligety sounded more conservationist than 2006 Olympic gold medalist.

Mr. TED LIGETY (Professional Skier, 2006 Olympic Gold Medalist): Just bought a new furnace that's 98 percent efficient. So, I mean, that's a big improvement over most ones that are 70 percent or whatever. So, I mean, that's big and then, I mean, just conserving energy on the house - turning off lights and not to put any heat on your house at 75 degrees. I mean, little things like that can definitely help.

GOLDMAN: Steven Nyman agreed that little deeds can be part of a bigger solution, but he also acknowledged that he and his peers may be part of the problem.

Mr. NYMAN: We're staying in hotel rooms, changing the linens. We're flying here and there and we're driving everywhere like we are using amazing amounts of fuel and resources. World travelers - that's a big part of the whole global warming issue.

GOLDMAN: Of course, canceling races helps cut down on travel. It also threatens skiers livelihoods. And late yesterday, the immediate outlook was bleak. A plan to relocate some of the cancelled European races to Colorado fell through because organizers couldn't raise enough money to put on the events. The irony of that decision - there's easily enough snow, winter storms have dumped tons of it on Colorado over the past week.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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