I was a lucky kid. When I was about five or six my mum and auntie took me up to Whakapapa on Mt Ruapehu and taught me to ski. As a young kid I thought there was no bigger treat than playing in the snow, on top of a mountain. Even now, as an adult, I still think it’s hard to beat the experience of standing at the top of a mountain, looking out over the country, and experiencing the blast of adrenaline that comes as I (try to) tear down the slopes.
The snow, our mountains, and the fact we can ski, board and play in these beautiful places, is something I don’t want New Zealand to lose. Yet climate change is putting this at risk.
In the last few weeks of the ski season we took a trip to Queenstown and Wanaka to begin our #LoveSnow campaign. It’s a campaign we hope will get Kiwis talking about the impact of climate change on our ski fields and mountains.
I was lucky enough to be joined by Sports Reporter and snowboarder Haley Holt, who is a passionate advocate for protecting the climate, and my fellow Green MP Julie Anne Genter.
We’ve begun #LoveSnow, in part, because we want to make climate change more tangible for New Zealanders. I think for many people climate change is still very abstract, tied up in international negotiations, emissions trading schemes, and faraway polar ice caps. We often forget to talk about how climate change will affect our day-to-day lives and the things we love.
We talked to dozens of skiers and snowboarders in Queenstown and Wanaka. Many admitted they hadn’t thought much about climate change or how it might affect them. Once we got talking, however, nearly all were concerned about what effect it might have on the ski season and the places they lived.
Many skiers have noticed that the seasons are becoming less reliable, and that the snow isn’t holding throughout the season, and is melting faster. People are concerned that the ski industry is going to rely more and more on snow making machines to keep the fields open. Artificial snow, in the eyes of most boarders and skiers, means harder snow that is less enjoyable to ski, and brings more chance of injuries.
These concerns are backed up by the science. A study by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in 2013 predicted that because of climate change, snow depth could reduce by 15 to 65 percent on low elevation ski fields in the next 20 years or so, meaning we’ll have to rely more and more on snow machines to keep the seasons going.
The Ministry for the Environment has also said that, if we do nothing about climate change, we could see 30 fewer snow days every year within the lifetimes of kids just learning to ski now.
The ski season has come to a close on our beautiful southern slopes and only has a few weeks to go on Mt Ruapehu. I hope I get the chance to hit the slopes again next year and keep the #LoveSnow campaign alive in the build-up to the 2017 general election.