As a professional skier, I am out in the mountains almost every day, all year. When you spend that much time on snow in both hemispheres, it’s not hard to see the threat climate change poses to the future of snowsports. Glaciers and snowfields I’ve skied are disappearing. We’re seeing rain events in December in the Colorado high country, something I never thought I’d witness. Our ski seasons are noticeably shorter, and certainly less predictable. If we don’t act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we will see the end of winter as we know it—probably in our lifetimes; certainly in our children’s.
A recent EPA study on climate change suggests a grim future for ski resorts. By 2090, that study predicts ski seasons will be 80 percent shorter than they are today. As a father of three young boys, that means my grandkids won’t experience winter as I have. I feel that like a gut punch. But fewer powder days will be the least of our children’s worries. We need a healthy snowpack for water.
I’m speaking out against the West Elk Coal Mine’s proposed expansion—giving Arch Coal access to an additional seventeen million tons of coal—because coal mines are major methane emitters. Methane is an immensely potent greenhouse gas; it’s far more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of driving climate change. From 2013 to 2015, the West Elk Mine was the single largest industrial source of methane pollution in Colorado.
Back in 2014, Colorado actually became the first state in the U.S. to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations. If you’ve driven out west at night you’ll remember seeing oil and gas wells flaring methane—burning it into space—instead of trapping it for fuel. The Trump administration is trying to bring that unregulated flaring back nationwide and environmentalists are fighting it. But, what good does even that landmark rule do if coal mines are allowed to wipe out a significant amount of the benefit? This is not a jobs issue. Renewable energy jobs now dwarf coal jobs nationwide.
I also oppose the West Elk Mine because it uses our nation’s public lands—your public lands—for industrial fossil fuel development. Under the plan, more than six miles of roads will be bulldozed and more than 48 drilling pads will be built in the Sunset Roadless Area, which is directly adjacent to the pristine habitat and ski terrain of the West Elk Wilderness. As an owner of an off-the-grid property bordering the Wilderness, this is my backyard. And personally, I prefer views of forests, ridgelines, and wildlife, not of a climate-wrecking methane bomb.
Please join me in asking Governor Hickenlooper to step up and tell our federal government that this mine expansion is a terrible investment for Colorado, our nation, and the planet.
Chris Davenport is a professional skier from Snowmass, Colorado. A member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, he is an accomplished big-mountain skier and mountaineer. Chris is a Board Member of Protect Our Winters. Join the fight at protectourwinters.org