My home state of Utah boasts the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” which is a draw for not only the professional athletes who train and compete in our 14 world-class ski resorts, but for the 5 million-plus skier days enjoyed by those who come here to spend a few days on the slopes.
It also doesn’t hurt that our ski resorts power a billion-dollar industry that supported 18,500 jobs in Utah alone during the 2017-18 season.
But a 2018 report by Protect Our Winters found that in a warmer world, there’s less snow. And when there’s less snow, people ski less. To preserve our way of life, the livelihoods of tens of thousands of us in Utah and to ensure a future where skiers come from all over the world to enjoy Utah’s famous snow, we need our elected officials to invest in infrastructure that includes climate solutions.
I was born and raised in Provo and, as a four-time Olympic ski racer, I’ve called the Wasatch Range home for decades. Growing up my entire family skied, and there has been no greater joy than watching my young daughter learn to ski, too.
Our snow put us on the world stage when Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, a herculean feat of logistics made possible in no small part by the love that we Utahns share for winter sports and the years of hard work by members of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, including our very own senator, Mitt Romney.
It’s a feat that we hope to pull off yet again, in 2030 or 2034. While I would love to compete on the Olympic stage here in my home state, I’ll be retired by the time Utah may host the Winter Games again. In fact, I’m turning 40 next year; quite possibly on an Olympic race day. But all this talk of retirement and what’s next has me thinking about our future: What kind of world are we leaving our future Olympians?
The answer is surely a very warm one, and quite possibly one without enough snow to ski, much less host the games. One well-known study of past cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics predicts that almost half will be too warm to host the games in 2050 due to climate change. If we want to continue to boast the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” Utah has a unique responsibility to protect our thriving ski industry from the impacts of climate change.
This doesn’t mean that we have to stop driving to the mountains every weekend to hike, ski and enjoy time with our families. Our individual actions will not be enough to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. What we need are systemic changes to how we create and use energy and how we move around, so that our everyday actions contribute to climate solutions, not the climate problem.
This includes making our electric grid more resilient, investing in renewable energy technologies, incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles by offering tax rebates and building charging stations, and ending fossil fuel subsidies.
The infrastructure bill now before Congress is an opportunity to invest in millions of American jobs by ensuring that all workers transition to an economy powered by renewables. This is a start to building a pathway for those in Utah who work in the fading fossil fuel industry to move into good jobs, while also ensuring that our children have the same opportunities to play in the snow as we did — all while taking steps to save our state’s $1.4 billion ski industry.
This requires bold leadership from our elected officials, which is why I’m calling on Utah’s entire congressional delegation — as a native Utahn, as an Olympian, and, most of all, as a father — to join Mitt Romney and get on board with building a forward-looking Utah and taking steps to protect our winters by supporting the bipartisan infrastructure legislation.
Steven Nyman is a four-time Olympic ski racer and member of the Protect Our Winters Athlete Alliance, based in Provo, UT. @Steven_Nyman