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Mountain melt

December 31, 2008 |  4:30 pm

Mountain

Scenes like this may be less and less common as global warming leaves some Western ski slopes bare in coming decades.

A new study examines the future snowpack at two well-known Rocky Mountain ski resorts under various climate-change scenarios. The long-term prognosis is not good, especially for Park City, Utah.

Under the worst-case projection -- involving the highest greenhouse gas emissions and temperature increases -- snow could completely disappear from Park City slopes by 2100. Winter will be the rainy season. Even under less dire scenarios, researchers concluded that only the top of Park City Mountain Resort will still be skiable by the end of the century.

Aspen, Colo., fared better, as it is expected to experience less warming than Park City and is at a higher elevation. The snowline will move upslope. But in 2100 the top of the mountain will still have enough snow for a run through the powder under the high-emission scenario.

Other ski areas in the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Mountains are likely to be similarly affected, according to one of the researchers,  University of Colorado at Boulder geography professor Mark Williams.

Resort owners can counter the trend by expanding to higher elevation areas and making more snow. But that will require more water and energy use, the study notes, calling into question "the economic feasibility of some ski areas in a warming climate."

Along with Williams, Brian Lazar of Stratus Consulting in Boulder, Colo., and Carmen de Jong of the University of Savoy in France wrote the paper, recently presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.    

-- Bettina Boxall

Photo: On the slopes at Park City, Utah. Credit: Associated Press

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