Can Vermont Winters Continue to Thrive in Climate Change?

By Farren Stainton

Over the past 50 years, Vermont’s average winter temperature has increased by 4°F. Wet snow and freezing rain are more common. The number of days when the ground is covered with snow each year is decreasing. Photo: Michael Caduto

Think about it, what is the most memorable moment you have ever had in a Vermont winter? Was it that sunset ski where the falling snow was ablaze with the orange sun? Was it when you were skating and the ice was perfectly smooth? Or was it that time when you woke up and looked out your window to see a winter wonderland that hadn’t been there the night before? These experiences, and many more, are why winter is so special to us.

Climate change poses a threat to Vermont’s ability to have winters as we know them; in fact it could be the very thing that takes them away from us. The United States Environmental Protection Agency predicts that throughout the USA by 2100 the ratio of rain to snow will be higher and the temperature will increase by 3 to 12 degrees fahrenheit (Future of Climate Change). These changes pose a problem for Vermont as some of its most important pieces of culture and economy are derived from winter, specifically recreation. For this reason, I found the drive to dig further into this topic.

To take action on Vermont’s changing winters, a group of students from around Vermont (including myself) participated in the state-wide ‘What’s the Story’ program, and through that program, made a documentary. Through interviews with many different individuals, we worked to get a big picture understanding of climate change’s impact on Vermont’s winter recreation. We met with professionals from Vermont ski destinations like Suicide Six and the Oak Hill Touring Center. Skiing (both alpine and nordic), skating, hockey and boarding are all aspects of winter living in Vermont. They help to bring economic opportunity and stability to our state. But, I learned this stability could all be taken away by climate change.

We interviewed Doug Hardy, a climate researcher at the University of Maryland and groomer for Dartmouth College nordic skiing, who stated that the ski season “certainly has gotten warmer and the winter season has gotten shorter…and there has probably been less snow.” This sparked my interest because it is a clear danger sign for future winters. If our winter season is not as long and powerful, lots of consequences could ensue for winter recreation and resorts. Christina Mattson, a manager at Suicide Six says, “The natural snow has certainly decreased the season.” In order for this resort to fulfill the skiing season, managing snow cover with snow making is essential.

Climate change’s impact on winter is evident to everyone we interviewed who works in recreation. Jeremiah Linehan, owner of Strafford Nordic Ski Center, says, “We see a lot more rain in the middle of winter than we ever used to.” Rain can ruin snow and make the full effect of winter be unachievable; climate change is doing this and making the snow season less exciting than ever before. Andrew Price, an ice fishing guide, is noticing large changes in the length of his fishing season. According to Price,“Things are getting warmer, and with warmer conditions you will see less safe ice for fishing.”

While creating the film Our Changing Winters, I interviewed experts in the field of winter recreation. Each, in their own way, taught me the extent of the impact of climate change and how noticeable it is if you are someone who pays attention. Climate change is impacting our access to winter recreation. For this reason, it is important to take action, and work hard to reduce our carbon footprint in order for Vermont winters to be as beautiful as they have always been.

Farren Stainton is a freshman at Woodstock Union High School.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Watch the video Our Changing Winters—byFarren Stainton, Jules Butler and Alden MacDowell—at the following link:

Our Changing Winters


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