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Talking Points

Glacier Death – How Much Longer Will Summer Snowboarding Last?

With glaciers retreating and summer parks shutting - how long can the dream continue?

Photo: Tignes this summer, by Barry Parker of Real Snowboarding

This year has seen two icons of summer shred die a death – Camp Of Champions in Whistler filed for bankruptcy back in June in order to provide refunds for its 2017 camps, and only last week Dachstein announced the permanent closure of its parks during the non-winter months. Both cited glacial retreat as the biggest contributing factor, with massively reduced snowpacks compared to twenty years ago needing proper maintenance, rather than having huge park jumps ripped into them each summer.

“Glacial strongholds all over Europe are showing obvious signs of massive losses in the snowpacks”

Not only that, but glacial strongholds all over Europe are showing obvious signs of huge losses in the snowpacks. Tignes is suffering massively due to a combination of a lower than average winter snowpack and an extra hot summer, but that’s also compounding years of retreat – locals are saying that this summer is the worst it’s looked for over twenty years. No wonder the resort is pushing their downhill bike infrastructure as well as development of an indoor snow dome and wave pool at the base of the 3500m glacier.

Climate change experts we’re not, but for safety we’ll err on the side of the 97% of the field’s authority figures who agree that it’s happening, and is doing so down to human behaviour. Mash your keyboards with all the hoax claims, natural cycle and big government rants you like, we’ve not had enough of experts, or our own eyes for that matter. Check out the photos of British filmer Johno Verity next to the Glacier du Bussons in Chamonix below, taken thirteen years apart.

“If you can get past the head band I was wearing back then and the different season of the picture I took today, you’ll notice a huge difference in the size of the glacier. What’s remaining of it on the left hand picture is 350m vertically up, its massive, what has disappeared in the last 13 years is hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Ice. I’ve watched it shrink for the last 17 years. One thing is for sure, it’s going faster every year. This’ll be the reason I’m always banging on about climate change” – Johno Verity 

Last weekend also saw the announcement of maybe the most iconic summer shred destination ever – High Cascade Snowboard Camp in Oregon will be shutting its doors and merging with neighbouring Windells due mainly to a reduced headcount of about 40% amongst campers, due to a cited combination of decreased participation (either possibly because of financial constraints or simply less interest in snowboarding) and increased competition from Californian resorts in the summer months.

“This might seem like the biggest middle-class, white boy problem there ever was…”

While this might seem like the biggest middle-class, white boy problem there ever was – “Oh but I simply must do some boarding this July!” – it’s a stark indication of two big problems facing the sport we all love:

One, the snowboard industry still hasn’t recovered from the aftermath of the global financial crisis ten years ago. Nothing much we can do there – snowboarding is an expensive pursuit, by default, so we’ll just sit and wait it out. Snowboarding will come back around, just as long as the banks don’t fuck it all up again with subprime car financing. Wait…

Two is, obviously, climate change. Yes yes, North America got dumped on last winter and so global warming obviously can’t be a thing, right? But the four years previous saw intense droughts and water shortages since the last record breaking winter in 2010. That is climate change in effect – predictable weather patterns replaced with extreme ends of the scale. Here in Europe it’s a similar story: 2012/13 broke records, now we’re all asking where the snow has gone.

“If the snow sports industry is near the sharp end of climate change, glaciers and summer shredding will be the obvious first casualties”

If the snow sports industry is near the bleeding edge, nay, melting edge of climate change, glaciers and summer shredding will be the obvious first casualties. Or rather, they are already. Remember the GAP Camp summer park up on the Zugspitze, above Garmisch? Well, I don’t, but my editor has a much longer memory than me and does. What happened to it? Well, this.

So where does that leave year round snowboarding and us? Riders have itches to scratch and we have an infinite amount of web space and social channels to fill. As joyful as getting up at 5.30am to steal a few precious hours riding during the hot months is, pretty soon we’re going to have to face up to the fact that the way this planet is headed, in the not-so-distant-future all this will be a thing of the past.

Piste-side crevasse fun. Photo: Barry Parker, Real Snowboarding

So what can we do? Uuhhhhh… Enjoy it whilst it lasts? Fly out to New Zealand or Chile every summer, or will the air miles just make it worse? Buy a bike?

Well, it’s not all doom and gloom. You don’t have to look far to see folk being proactive about reducing the damage. Laax go a long way to maintaining their glacial terrain, managing snow levels and covering up huge swathes with tarpaulin to save the ice from summer rays. Protect Our Winters doesn’t explicitly include summer in their name as well, but they’re a good organisation to get involved with.

Still not convinced by the evidence? Just ask yourself: what is the worst that could happen if we all tried to fart less noxious gases into the atmosphere, sling less plastic bottles, straws and six pack rings into the oceans or even, gasp, eat a bit less meat. It won’t be the end of the world, and best of all the world might not actually end. We might even get to go riding a bit more.

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