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Ski Resorts Keep Eye On Global Warming

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While European ski resorts consider global warming a real threat to their business, their North American counterparts, including Bear Valley, are not overly concerned just yet.

The snow level is moving higher and higher up the mountains, according to a report from the United National Environment Program presented at a conference of the International Olympic Committee.

A body of 2,000 scientists has produced temperature forecasts that could push the snowfall level from 4,900 feet up to 6,000 feet in the next 30 to 50 years, according to an Associated Press report.

That could doom many ski resorts in countries such as Austria and Switzerland, but the news has not had much impact on American ski resorts, particularly those in the West.

Bear Valley is already at a much higher elevation, with runs ranging from 6,600 to 8,500 feet, resort Marketing Director Schuyler Harrison said.

It´s true winters don´t seem quite as cold or produce the same amount of snow as in years past, but whether that´s because of global warming or a brief blip in the climate pattern is difficult to determine, Harrison said.

European resorts are developing and shifting emphasis to year-round recreation, including paths for hiking or mountain biking during the summer.

Because of a number of constraints, that just won´t work for Bear Valley at this time. “We are strictly a winter-oriented business,” Harrison said.

The Bear Valley area has plenty of summer attractions such as hiking, fishing and kayaking, but the resort itself is not actively involved in any of them, Harrison said, and does not have the extensive lodging and other support services to presently go in that direction.

Year-round mountain resorts require a significant population base within a three-hour drive to be successful, Harrison said, but even that´s no guarantee. A bike park at Lake Tahoe is losing money despite the relatively nearby cities such as Sacramento and Reno, Harrison said.

Other resorts are developing golf courses and offering organized gatherings such as weddings and other group affairs, he added. “Maybe that´s a possibility for us down the road,” Harrison said.

He said resorts on private land have an easier time building attractions such as mountain slides for concrete luge runs.

Bear Valley is restricted in its development because it is on public land and subject to requirements from the National Forest Service.

The resort recently received an Environmental Scorecard grade of “C” from the Ski Area Citizens´ Coalition, a non-industry group that assesses the environmental performance of resorts.

The coalition “cautiously encourages” skiers to visit the resort, but also requests skiers and snowboarders e-mail Bear Valley officials and ask them to improve their environmental record.

Bear Valley lost points for a planned expansion into “undisturbed land” known as the East Bowl, and the impact that would have on sensitive and threatened plant and animal species, according to the coalition.

Harrison disagreed the territory is “undisturbed,” adding that Bear Valley received Forest Service permission for that project because the land already sees a lot of use. “It´s not unspoiled wilderness,” Harrison said.

He added that the environmental report card doesn´t have that much impact on business at this time because not many people are aware of it, but it could gain weight in the future.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Craig Koscho. For more Calaveras news, click: