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Forget Natural Snow, Prepare for a Reliance on Man-Made Snow

SAMUEL ELI SHEPARD, HOST: Winters are getting warmer, and this can mean problems for skiers. Man-made snow has been a lifeline for the sport to continue. A simple solution, you’d think? When life won’t give you snow, you make it yourself! But as Desiree Nikfardjam [Nick-far-jam] reports, it can be hard to beat mother nature.  

DESIREE NIKFARDJAM, BYLINE: Richard Casey is an alpine skier at Colgate University. He’s been racing since he was 13. He says increasingly, weather has been impacting his sport. Like last weekend, when one of his races got canceled.

RICHARD CASEY: It started thundering and lightning. And that’s never happened in my life before, I’ve never been around snow before and had lightning strike and like a mountain stop. So that was really crazy.

NIKFARDJAM In the Northeast, most skier and competitive athletes, like Casey, rely on man-made snow. He says that can come with benefits, especially for racers like him. One reason - man-made snow has more moisture.

CASEY:  Yeah, so man made snow. So if it sits there in a big pile for a while, it can actually like condense into some really good ice. And that ice is awesome for us to race on. 

NIKFARDJAM: But, he says there can be drawbacks too. Especially when you’re racing downhill at over 50 miles per hour; the way that snow is distributed matters!

CASEY: ‘Cause if it's pushed out and spread apart too soon, it gets really granular, like sugar. And that is like really not good. For us to compete on, it's very inconsistent and can be really dangerous.

NIKFARDJAM: Casey says when you have a combination of warm temperatures and man-made snow, there can be bumps of ice which are not racer-friendly. Also, man-made snow isn’t enough! If temperatures are not low enough, it could all melt away.

Todd Enders is an Alpine ski coach -  he’s also at Colgate. He says using man made snow isn’t a big deal, we’ve been using it for over 40 years. But, we haven’t had to rely on it the way we do today, and that could cause problems.

TODD ENDERS: It doesn't scare me or bother me that there's more man-made snow in our future. What would concern me would be how are those costs gonna transfer over to us, in the ski race or the youth that are racing, and will we be able to manage a sport that's already becoming too expensive for many.

NIKFARDJAM: A season pass alone can cost up to thousand dollars! Then there’s the unpredictable weather. Now add an extra thousand for the costs of man-made snow.

Richard Casey, the Colgate Skier, also noticed this. He said when he was a kid, he had to sign up for his hometown ski team by July to secure a spot. Now, he says spots open well into November. He knows because his mom still gets team emails.

CASEY: That just never happened when I was younger. It would like if you didn't get in there in the middle of the summer when most people aren't even thinking about racing, then you're just not gonna be able to do it that season. So yeah, I definitely see a decline in the sport in the future which is really sad.

NIKFARDJAM: Casey’s team is participating in the regional championships this weekend at Bristol Mountain. The forecast predicts snowy showers on Saturday, with a high of 7 degrees on Sunday. Desiree Nikfardjam, Columbia Radio News.


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