A group of winter sports athletes and the world’s biggest snowboard maker want the president of the International Ski Federation to resign after he spoke of “so-called climate change” and said he would rather deal with dictators than argue with environmentalists.
The Boulder-based climate advocacy group Protect Our Winters sent an open letter Friday urging 75-year-old Gian-Franco Kasper to step aside.
In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Kasper said “dictators can organize (big) events … without asking the people’s permission” and that “from the business side, I say: I just want to go to dictatorships, I do not want to argue with environmentalists.”
He also referenced “so-called” climate change, and when challenged on that, responded, “We have snow, sometimes very much.” He pointed to frigid temperatures at last year’s Pyeongchang Olympics. “To anyone shuddering toward me, I said: Welcome to the global warming,” Kasper told the newspaper.
“When we saw that, from our perspective,” Protect Our Winters Executive Director Mario Molina told AP, “it was unacceptable to have anyone in a position of leadership in the snow-sport industry denying climate change.”
Projected changes in the climate will raise global temperatures and cause changes in precipitation that are expected to decrease the duration and extent of natural snow cover in the U.S., according to a study co-published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“Virtually all locations are projected to see reductions in winter recreation season lengths, exceeding 50 percent by 2050 and 80 percent in 2090 for some downhill skiing locations,” the study says.
“We estimate these season length changes could result in millions to tens of millions of foregone recreational visits annually by 2050, with an annual monetized impact of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The study also notes that a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions could “delay and substantially reduce” the impact on the winter recreation economy.
Colorado ski industry representatives have warned that climate change could severely damage the winter recreation business. The state’s ski industry generates $4.8 billion and supports more than 46,000 jobs when converted to the year-round equivalent, according to a 2015 study by Colorado Ski Country USA and Vail Resorts.
Spending by out-of-state visitors also helps to sustain mountain communities, the study said. In addition to the 500,000 Coloradans who skied during the 2013-14 season, more than 7 million people from other states and countries came to Colorado to ski that season, spending on average $300 per visit.
An analysis on the winter recreation economy published by POW in February 2018 points to Summit County’s Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin as three of the ski communities with the most at stake given the realities of climate change accepted by a preponderance of the scientific community.
Loss of late snowpack could curtail the number of tourists in March, which make up 25 percent of Breckenridge’s skier visits. POW quoted Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula saying his “worry is about the edges of the season,” and that March 2016 was the first time he could recall such unfavorable conditions during that time of year.
During the 2011-12 season, only 196 inches of snow was recorded at A-Basin compared with its average 350 inches. The season was so dismal for the resort adjacent to Interstate 70 that it was forced to close for the season a month before its planned closing date. After that year, the mountain launched its award-winning sustainability program along with climate change education.
Members of the Colorado ski industry have become vocal advocates for addressing climate change. Aspen Skiing Co. launched its award-winning #GiveAFlake campaign in September to pressure three Republican U.S. senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio — to do more to address climate change.
Aspen Skiing has sought to reduce its carbon footprint since 1997, utilizing methane capture from a coal mine in Somerset and solar arrays to power its operations.
In November, Vail Resorts committed to offset its 2019 emissions as well as to eliminating its single-use plastic cutlery and tableware at its 17 North American resorts.
At Denver’s Outdoor Retailer show last week, Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association, SnowSports Industries America and National Ski Areas Association announced the formation of the Outdoor Business Climate Alliance. The partnership seeks to lobby for legislation and policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the nation’s power grid.
“The Outdoor Business Climate Partnership believes in pursuing bipartisan policies that result in broad-scale carbon emission reductions, promote energy innovation and bolster our country’s transition to a clean energy economy,” said National Ski Areas Association spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac when asked about Kasper’s comments. “Climate change is real, which is why we will remain focused on implementing our priorities and our strategic approach to climate change solutions advocacy.”
Colorado Ski Country USA voiced its support for the alliance during Outdoor Retailer, noting its initiatives to curb emissions from the energy sector.
“The ski industry in Colorado employs nearly 50,000 people and our 23-member ski areas take the threat of climate change seriously,” said Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA. “In Colorado, our policy team advocates for policies at the Capitol and the Public Utilities Commission to expand renewable energy, increase energy efficiency and mitigate the impacts of climate change.”
Kasper subsequently apologized for his comments, saying they were not meant to be taken literally.
Protect Our Winters is a nonprofit formed in 2007 to combat climate change. Several dozen athletes are part of the alliance, which also includes scientists and business leaders.
In its open letter, which also included a link for people to add their name to the call for Kasper’s resignation, POW said the Tages-Anzeiger story “confirms what insiders in FIS meetings have told us for years: that the leadership of the organization is unwilling to acknowledge scientific evidence that threatens the entire snow industry.”
Protect Our Winters refers to studies that document the rapid decline of European glaciers, and to its economic analysis that shows seasons with below-average snowfall could result in losses of more than $1 billion and 17,400 fewer jobs.
Protect Our Winters also decided this week to not accept a $10,500 donation it was set to receive Sunday from U.S. Ski and Snowboard through its volunteers, coaches, and athletes.
“As a sign of respect for them and the action they want to support, we are declining that donation and asking instead that Gian-Franco Kasper be removed from his position,” the open letter said.
Snowboard maker Burton said it would write a check to replace the USSA donation.
“You can’t be giving money to Protect Our Winters when the president of your federation is denying climate change and talking about how great it is to work with dictators because you don’t have to worry about protecting the environment,” Donna Burton told the AP, referencing the relationship between USSA and FIS. “It’s so blatant. He has to resign. It’s not OK.”
Kasper has been president of FIS since 1998. He also made headlines in 2005 for saying he didn’t think ski jumping was “appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”