Warming Winters Signal Trouble for Purgatory


Grace Swanson, Repoter

Durango’s snow level now is at 22% of the standard average level. The minimal snowfall and severe lack of ski and snowboard activity that Purgatory Resort is experiencing hints at the impact of climate change on the Purgatory and the typical Durango resident’s lifestyle.

The global scientific consensus that humans have caused climate change, which is resulting in major consequences on the Western Slope and across the world, but people are starting to make changes.

Glaciers are melting at an increasingly high rate, and in some places winter temperatures have increased by 40 degrees. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), while there are variations all year such as the El Nino patterns, over the last five decades climate change has had a large impact on our decrease in snow.

“Climate change doesn’t come at a uniform rate, it’s kind of hard if you’re a denyer, to accept it. You can’t just go off of what you see… It’s going to affect us more and more,” said Randy Smith, a local skier.

A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the athletes’ group Protect Our Winters discovered that the 23 million people who are involved in winter sports add an estimated $12.2 billion each year to the US economy; restaurants and bars add about 31,600 jobs and $942 million in economic value. All those numbers have declined by about $1.07 billion between 1999 and 2010 due to climate change.

This season, Purgatory is having to produce more fake snow than usual to open on a reasonable day. The NRDC found that in Colorado, the “low-snow” winters have had an 8% decline in tourist skier visits, causing a $154 million decrease in revenue.

“There is a lot less snow; by this time last year my dad and I had had a couple of powder days already. It just makes me sad to see climate change affecting us so soon and so fast,” said DHS Fr. Jaden Fitzpatrick.

Due to the lack of snow this year, the six-pack was not only bringing skiers up to the top of the mountain, but was used to get skiers back to the base area.

“You never even thought about there not being snow before Thanksgiving, it came like Santa Claus. Nobody spoke of climate change. You were always guaranteed a white Christmas,” said Durango native Renee Lahman, reflecting back on her childhood.

In Durango, and the Colorado Plateau we rely on our snow to provide us with water all year round. A decrease in snow will also affect jobs during all four seasons; Colorado resorts expect 70% of their annual revenue while the ski resorts are open.

“If the skiing gets worse, the restaurants will not be as full. I myself have snow shoveled roofs at Purg, will there be enough to snowshed; no, it could be rain. Also all the jobs revolving around the Animas river in the summer. It shows everywhere,” claimed Smith. In ski towns, the tourist market keeps businesses moving.

“If ski resorts can’t stay open for a certain number of days per year, then there’s a chance the skiing sport won’t be around in 20 years,” said Jon Lillis, a world champion in aerials skier.

Snowfall has had a major downfall in many parts of the US, with 57% of areas showing a decrease in the total amount this year. Ski areas are coming together to create what they call the “mountain pack”, where they are coming up with alternative ways to run their resorts.

“The ski areas are coming together; they’re using alternative fuel to make their snow and using biodiesel gasoline for their snow plows, coming up with alternative ways to address ski lifts, snow plows and making snow. It’s going to generate the momentum,” said Lahman.  

The hints of climate change are becoming more prominent than ever, with our warm Novembers and lack of precipitation. The NRDC claims that a warm spell across the US left the lowest record of snowfall since 2003. Only 3.5% of the 48 states had snow cover on Nov. 26.

Snow is a huge part of our community and a key element that makes Durango, well, Durango.  People move to Colorado because of the snow.

“For Durango, I would expect that we will have some winters with lots of snow and early and unseasonable temperatures. 5 years ago Wolf Creek opened in the third week of October, this year snow didn’t fall until almost Christmas.” Stated Brett Wilson, a teacher at DHS.

Climate change is unpredictable and doesn’t always mean warmer temperatures. The definition is a change in global or local weather patterns; snow in the deep south this year is also a large hint of climate change.

Smith claimed, “The hints are obvious, recycling even as little as it may be; always try and improve even if it’s making small steps.We know we’re polluting so why not do something?”

We reached out repeatedly to Purgatory for interview requests, they did not respond.