Winter may be coming to Westeros, but here on Earth, it's in jeopardy.
That's the message of some 75 professional skiers, snowboarders and climbers – Olympic medalists, world champions and X Games winners among them – whose chosen sports' dependence on snowy winters makes them particularly worried about the effects of climate change.
The athletes have signed a letter to President Obama "on behalf of 23 million of us who love winter and depend on it for our economic livelihoods," asking him to live up to his inaugural promise to take meaningful action to slow climate change. Specifically, they ask him to block the Keystone XL pipeline, which would import carbon-intensive oil from Canada's tar sands, and to require carbon cuts from power plants. "Without a doubt," the letter states, "winter is in trouble."
"It wasn't hard to get people to sign," says Jeremy Jones, a 10-time Snowboard Magazine "Best Big Mountain Rider of the Year" and the founder of Protect our Winters, the nonprofit group that coordinated the letter. "We could go out and get 98 percent of mountain guides to sign on tomorrow. People who are in the mountains on a daily basis see undeniable changes to our winters."
Jones will deliver the letter today while being honored as a White House "Champion of Change." He founded Protect Our Winters after being shocked to witness the loss of snowpack in northern Canada in 2005. "It was a slap in the face," he says.
The letter notes that a changing climate won't just harm winter sports fans; it will also threaten jobs and small-town economies across the country. A report by Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that winter sports add more than $12 billion to the U.S. economy and support more than 200,000 jobs. A number of studies have shown that climate change is not likely to be kind to the ski industry, which is already struggling through short seasons and unpredictable snowfall – the result of drought as well as milder winters. According to one study, no resorts in Massachusetts or Connecticut are likely to survive the next 30 years. Park City, Utah, may have no snowpack left by the end of the century.
Of all the expected casualties of climate change, the winter sports industry may not be the most morally or existentially stirring. But its importance to fans makes it a rallying cry –and the same changes that threaten its long-term viability also put drinking water and agriculture at risk. "If we get to the point where the ski resorts all close because there's no longer any snow," says Jones, "the least of our worries will be that skiers and snowboarders don't get to go play in the mountains."