Steep decent, no fall zone climate change

Commit, you’re in the no fall zone!

With the global climate now around 1 degree warmer, we are now in the no fall zone for climate change and the very future of snow sports. As my guide used to say, commit, you’re in the no fall zone! You fall here, you’ll die.

These pictures show the speed of glacial retreat at Tignes, one of Europe’s best-known summer skiing locations:

Grand Motte summer 2013, glacial retreat. No fall zone.
Grand Motte summer 2013
Grand Motte summer 2017, glacial retreat. No fall zone.
Grand Motte summer 2017

Snowsports – on the front line of climate change

Snowsports are on the front line of climate change. In the cold and wild places, climate change is very real – it’s happening, now and quickly. There is profound glacial retreat around the globe, snowfall patterns are more erratic and high-temperature volatility during winter means less consistent snow conditions. In North America, witness the tragic news of the cancellation of the world famous Whistler Camp of Champions this year due to glacial retreat in a high snowfall season. In Europe, the extensive glacial retreat and early closure of summer camps.

Les Bossons Glacier, Chamonix - Glacial retreat 2004 -2017

In the No Fall Zone

Remember that tingly feeling you get when the guide turns around and says in a gravelly French accent (at least in La Grave or Chamonix), “no fall here, you fall you die.” You remember the massive cliff you are traversing over, that space sucking at you. Hell, it’s a flat traverse, why’s my heart beating like this, why am I nervous? Then you remember that sweet and massive field of untracked powder…the fierce joy that comes with ripping through it with your friends…the fact that you can actually ski or snowboard. Take a deep breath, focus, off we go – BOOM!

powder field
Power field

Commit, or die

Helps you focus doesn’t it, that ‘you fall, you die’ stuff? Well, that’s where we are with climate change peeps, staring over the cliff. If we fall, certain death, if we don’t, good times. So take a deep breath, buckle up, remember the POW and commit. The good news is we have all the tools we need to tackle climate change by getting off fossil fuels – increasingly cheap renewable energy sources and electric cars. The bad news is that we’re not moving quickly enough, so we need to do more or no-one is going to be doing many powder turns in the future.


Concerned? You should be. We know this is a big, scary, global problem that our governments and big business should be held accountable for – as individuals we often feel voiceless and powerless. That’s where POW comes in. We will guide you through the science and actions that we all, as a UK winter sports community, can take to drive effective change on climate change. Together, we have a louder voice and stronger impact. Together, we can take positive action to make a real, difference.

Let’s make change happen together and protect our winters for future generations.

Join Protect Our Winters.

ice core climate science

The three-minute story of 800,000 years of climate change…


Ice cores are a window into the past hundreds of thousands of years. 

ice core
Ice Core

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Ludovic Brucker

Ben Henley, University of Melbourne and Nerilie Abram, Australian National University

There are those who say the climate has always changed, and that carbon dioxide levels have always fluctuated. That’s true. But it’s also true that since the industrial revolution, CO₂ levels in the atmosphere have climbed to levels that are unprecedented over hundreds of millennia.

So here’s a short video we made, to put recent climate change and carbon dioxide emissions into the context of the past 800,000 years.

The temperature-CO₂ connection

Earth has a natural greenhouse effect, and it is really important. Without it, the average temperature on the surface of the planet would be about -18℃ and human life would not exist. Carbon dioxide (CO₂) is one of the gases in our atmosphere that traps heat and makes the planet habitable.

We have known about the greenhouse effect for well over a century. About 150 years ago, a physicist called John Tyndall used laboratory experiments to demonstrate the greenhouse properties of CO₂ gas. Then, in the late 1800s, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius first calculated the greenhouse effect of CO₂ in our atmosphere and linked it to past ice ages on our planet.

Modern scientists and engineers have explored these links in intricate detail in recent decades, by drilling into the ice sheets that cover Antarctica and Greenland. Thousands of years of snow have compressed into thick slabs of ice. The resulting ice cores can be more than 3km long and extend back a staggering 800,000 years.

Scientists use the chemistry of the water molecules in the ice layers to see how the temperature has varied through the millennia. These ice layers also trap tiny bubbles from the ancient atmosphere, allowing us to measure prehistoric CO₂ levels directly.

Antarctic temperature changes across the ice ages were very similar to globally-averaged temperatures, except that ice age temperature changes over Antarctica were roughly twice that of the global average. Scientists refer to this as polar amplification (data from Parrenin et al. 2013; Snyder et al. 2016; Bereiter et al. 2015).
Ben Henley and Nerilie Abram

Temperature and CO₂

The ice cores reveal an incredibly tight connection between temperature and greenhouse gas levels through the ice age cycles, thus proving the concepts put forward by Arrhenius more than a century ago.

In previous warm periods, it was not a CO₂ spike that kickstarted the warming, but small and predictable wobbles in Earth’s rotation and orbit around the Sun. CO₂ played a big role as a natural amplifier of the small climate shifts initiated by these wobbles. As the planet began to cool, more CO₂ dissolved into the oceans, reducing the greenhouse effect and causing more cooling. Similarly, CO₂ was released from the oceans to the atmosphere when the planet warmed, driving further warming.

But things are very different this time around. Humans are responsible for adding huge quantities of extra CO₂ to the atmosphere – and fast.

The speed at which CO₂ is rising has no comparison in the recorded past. The fastest natural shifts out of ice ages saw CO₂ levels increase by around 35 parts per million (ppm) in 1,000 years. It might be hard to believe, but humans have emitted the equivalent amount in just the last 17 years.

How fast are CO₂ levels rising?
Ben Henley and Nerilie Abram

Before the industrial revolution, the natural level of atmospheric CO₂ during warm interglacials was around 280 ppm. The frigid ice ages, which caused kilometre-thick ice sheets to build up over much of North America and Eurasia, had CO₂ levels of around 180 ppm.

Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, takes ancient carbon that was locked within the Earth and puts it into the atmosphere as CO₂. Since the industrial revolution humans have burned an enormous amount of fossil fuel, causing atmospheric CO₂ and other greenhouse gases to skyrocket.

In mid-2017, atmospheric CO₂ now stands at 409 ppm. This is completely unprecedented in the past 800,000 years.

Global Temperature and CO₂ since 1850.
Ben Henley and Nerilie Abram

The massive blast of CO₂ is causing the climate to warm rapidly. The last IPCC report concluded that by the end of this century we will get to more than 4℃ above pre-industrial levels (1850-99) if we continue on a high-emissions pathway.

If we work towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, by rapidly curbing our CO₂ emissions and developing new technologies to remove excess CO₂ from the atmosphere, then we stand a chance of limiting warming to around 2℃.

Observed and projected global temperature on high (RCP8.5) and low (RCP2.6) CO₂ emission futures.
Ben Henley and Nerilie Abram

The fundamental science is very well understood. The evidence that climate change is happening is abundant and clear. The difficult part is: what do we do next? More than ever, we need strong, cooperative and accountable leadership from politicians of all nations. Only then will we avoid the worst of climate change and adapt to the impacts we can’t halt.

The ConversationThe authors acknowledge the contributions of Wes Mountain (multimedia), Alicia Egan (editing) and Andrew King (model projection data).

Ben Henley, Research Fellow in Climate and Water Resources, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne and Nerilie Abram, ARC Future Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences; Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Camp of champions Glacial retreat

On the frontline of climate change

Camp of Champions Closes

We were crushed to hear the news on Thursday that Ken Achenbach has been forced to close  Camp of Champions (‘COC’) in Whistler, B.C., due to lack of snow coverage and the shrinking Whistler Blackcomb glacier.

In an open letter published on Facebook, Ken wrote a heartfelt apology to his customers expressing his deep sorrow for the decision, which is sadly beyond his control and likely irreversible.

Ken explains: “To give you an idea of how much melting has happened the last few years, in 2015 alone the glacier lost 35 vertical feet of ice. Last year, the entrance to the entire glacier had to be moved 40 feet lower. … I haven’t slept in a week. After 28 years my dream is over. Honestly, I want to crawl under a rock. I feel like I have died. Camp is my life…. but global warming has decimated the glacier and our ability to run a summer camp.”

What makes this even harder to bear is the knowledge that this is likely to be the first of many such stories we’ll be reporting. Glaciers around the globe are melting at an unprecedented rate, whilst the likes of Donald Trump are claiming that climate change is a hoax. Sure, the rest of the civilised world may be sane enough to disagree, but we’re still not acting fast enough, and unless we do, we may not be left with any glaciers left to fight for.  

Part of the reason we’re so passionate about acting on climate change with such urgency is that it’s happening before our very eyes. Whereas some, like President Trump and his cronies, see it as some elaborate dystopian conspiracy, the snow sports community is at the very front line of climate change . We’re seeing glaciers melting, high-temperature volatility during winter and ever more erratic snow conditions. Just the other day, we posted a before and after photo of the Glacier des Bossons in Chamonix to our Facebook page. The post prompted a lively discussion, and it was interesting to note that some pointed to the change of season in the photos as a reason behind the difference in the size of the glacier. It was a reasonable assumption to make but the sad reality is that whatever the season, the glacier is getting smaller.

This was also the case at COC, where it wasn’t so much the snowfall (the US had a bumper season) but the loss of glacier length and depth that caused the camp to close. Weather is short term and changeable, such a big snow winter whereas climate is long-term trends. Sadly this is not isolated, glaciers worldwide are moving backwards rapidly as POW UK ambassador Ed Leigh says “the changes we’re seeing now in the mountains are undeniable” and these are the canaries in the mine for our species.

Les Bossons Glacier, Chamonix - Glacial retreat 2004 -2017

Astonishingly, there are still those who continue to deny climate science. For a species whose civilisation is built on science, this is more than remarkable, it’s bare-faced lunacy. Imagine for a moment your feet start swelling and you start to feel intense pain. You go to the doctor who tells you that you have gout and need to cut back on the red wine and cheese. That’s not what you want to hear – you like red wine and cheese, so you go to another doctor. If you went to 100 doctors and 99 of them gave you the gout diagnosis, would you believe the one who didn’t? Of course not. In fact, you would be likely to question the professionalism of the one doctor who told you to crack on with the rich food and booze. Climate change denial is that one doctor.

For those of us who love winter – whether for the winter sports, the joy of building snowmen with children, sledging, glaciers or polar bears – this is a call to action. If we do not rapidly accelerate the pace of change to a low carbon economy, winter sports as we know them will be a thing of the past, not just impacting the priceless memories of millions of future holiday makers, but also decimating the winter sports economy. The wider environmental impacts on the natural systems which support our civilisation don’t even bear thinking about.

Concerned? You should be. We know this is a big, scary, global problem that our government and big business should be held accountable for – as individuals we often feel voiceless and powerless. That’s where POW comes in. We will guide you through the science and actions that we all, as a UK winter sports community, can take to drive effective change on climate change. Together, we have a louder voice and stronger impact. Together, we can take positive action to make a real, difference.

Let’s make change happen together and protect our winters for future generations.


World Environment Day

Today is World Environment Day.

This year’s theme, ‘Connecting People to Nature’, implores us to get outdoors.  To appreciate nature’s beauty and to think about how we interact with and depend on it. It challenges us to find fun and exciting ways to experience and cherish this vital relationship.

To celebrate, we’ll be releasing a short film later this week to remind ourselves just how much children get out of the great outdoors. Remember your first ski holiday, or the look on your kid’s face when he or she built their first snowman. When they whizzed down their first slope? These moments are priceless – let’s keep them that way for future generations.

And here are some ideas for how you can celebrate World Environment Day:

(Yes, we know half-term is only just over and it’s a Monday, so if today is a stretch, plan something over the weekend instead):

  1. Get outside. Take the kids to the park to feed the ducks, maybe pick up some litter on the way. Use the opportunity to talk your kids about the environment (there are some great child-friendly resources out there) and set yourself nature challenges such as naming three types of trees or plants 
  2. Get active. cycling, hiking, running, or just kicking a football around the park. There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors that don’t cost a penny. So put the smartphones and iPads away and make the most of nature’s playground
  3. Get planting. Kids love getting their hands dirty and being part of something creative. If you live in the city and don’t have a garden, why not do your bit to green the urban environment by planting a window box? 
  4. Get creative. Take photos or get the kids to draw their favourite nature scenes. Share your photos and videos onto the World Environment Global Album. If your children are a little older, encourage them to start a scrapbook and learn about the environment, or contribute to a science project with the app iNaturalist.

Join us, become a POW UK Winter Warrior. Watch this space for more information and resources. In the meantime, focus on the little things. Educate yourself on climate change, make changes to reduce your carbon footprint (ditch the car and walk or cycle, eat less meat, recycle), and share your knowledge with the kids and friends. Most of all, take the time to appreciate nature and mother earth. She’s the only one we’ve got!

paris accord

Keep Paris Now What?

Yesterday, President Trump announced that he is withdrawing the U.S. from the landmark Paris Climate Accord, demonstrating a deeply unfortunate combination of ignorance, short-termism and vested interests. As outdoors people we are closely linked to the environment and recognise the critical importance of maintaining it in good working order – the risks to the human species of climate change cannot be overstated – we think history will judge Mr Trump very badly. Furthermore, with the rest of the climate-conscious world now decarbonising (states, countries, companies, investors, individuals and the financial community), we believe that Mr Trump’s rationale is completely wrong – the direction of travel is very much sustainable and he has now increased the risk of the US missing out on the economic opportunity this presents.

 It's like the smallest. This small.
Protect Our Winters UK is 100% committed to using every available tool to we have to engage, educate, empower and encourage the outdoor sports community in the UK to take effective action on climate change. We will redouble our efforts to drive positive actions on climate and believe this is doubly important now – when leadership is absent on critical issues like climate change, then individuals must step up. We believe that by mobilising an engaged community we will make a difference. Come and join us.