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Mountain News: Records tumbling at Lake Tahoe, Whistler



TRUCKEE, Calif. -- Snow has been great, the economy has been humming, and ski areas on the West Coast have been reporting record business.

Whistler Blackcomb had recorded 1.14 million skier visits as of early February, the best ever.

In California, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows isn't over the million skier market yet, but it expects to get there before the season's end. That would be a first for the Tahoe resort.

"In the context of the past four years, it's as good as it gets," Andy Wirth, president and chief executive of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, told The Wall Street Journal.

"The pent-up demand of the last four years has made more people come up here," said John "JT" Thompson, tourism director of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association. Demand has been strong from the San Francisco Bay area, 320 kilometres away.

Ski officials told the Journal that climate change is likely to make snowfall all the more unpredictable, prompting them to make changes — such as slides and more mountain bicycle trails — to make the destinations less reliant on snow.

Rain replaces snow over the long term

TRUCKEE, Calif. — More rain instead of snow. That was the trend that Climate Central found when it examined winter precipitation data since 1949 from 2,121 U.S. weather stations that generally get snow.

Oregon saw the biggest drop in snow with 86 per cent of its stations reporting a decline, and Washington state has had an 80-per-cent decline and Idaho a 78-per-cent decrease.

Interior states had less change. Wyoming had 49 per cent less, Colorado 46 per cent, and Utah 42 per cent.

Climate Central said last winter's "wet drought" in the Pacific Northwest is a prime example of the phenomenon. The region was only slightly drier than average, but much of the precipitation that did fall came as rain, thanks to the second mildest November-to-April on record.

This is, noted the website, a "bummer for ski resorts and the people who love them."

It's obviously a problem for resorts. "No amount of grooming can make a rainy day go away," said Elizabeth Burakowski, a post-doctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Climate action planning launched

EAGLE, Colo. — Eagle County commissioners have appropriated $52,000 for the creation of a climate action plan. The money will be used to collect hard data about the local role of producing greenhouse gases and then outline steps to reduce those emissions.

The county includes the Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas and other communities in the Eagle Valley, plus a small portion of Aspen's suburbs.

Vail Daily reported that the local Walking Mountains Science Center will be paid to create the plan, with a due date of November.

County officials said that the Paris climate negotiations in December showed that greenhouse gas reductions must be driven from the grassroots.

"What we saw in Paris is that nations are probably not going to act. If they're not, it's up to local entities to act," said Commissioner Jill Ryan. But even without a climate plan, Eagle County has been pushing forward with renewable energy installations and energy efficiency projects.

Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins have also adopted climate action plans, as have Carbondale and New Castle, towns adjacent to Eagle County. Aspen, with its Canary Initiative, was among the first.

In Montana, city officials in Whitefish are also considering creation of a climate action plan. The plan could be done solely for the city, or as part of a cooperative process with adjoining communities, including Columbia Falls and Glacier National Park.

Whitefish Pilot reported that Helena, Red Lodge, Bozeman, Billings, and Missoula — all in Montana — have also adopted plans. Helena's 2009 plan focuses on mitigation through reducing its carbon footprint and protection of its municipal watershed. Red Lodge incorporated its climate action strategies into its growth policy. Bozeman's 2011 plan looks at clean energy, food, water, and transportation.

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