Getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on how to address climate change isn’t easy. “Luckily, with something as enjoyable as winter sports, that’s not that hard to do,” Congressman John Curtis, a Republican from Utah, told GlacierHub in an interview.
Curtis is a co-chair of the Ski and Snowboard Caucus, alongside Representative Ann Kuster, a Democrat from New Hampshire. Reestablished in 2014, the caucus brings awareness and creates bipartisan solutions to the social, economic and political issues of the ski and snowboarding industry, which is increasingly at risk of warming winters and fewer snow days. These impacts are felt locally, from the glacier-filled North Cascades in Washington to the Appalachian Mountains, impacting nearly 500 ski areas in the U.S. and the communities that rely on them for jobs and revenue.
When it comes to protecting a $20.3 billion industry that supplies jobs through ski resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, grocery stores and gas stations, the US representatives who make up the bipartisan caucus are willing to look beyond their party affiliations. “As with anything in Congress, getting things done with a long-lasting impact requires working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” said Curtis, who has been in office since 2017.
In June, Curtis, along with other Republican representatives, introduced the Conservative Climate Caucus which aims to bring climate conversations into the GOP and to educate Republicans on climate legislation that aligns with conservative values. Curtis also traveled to Glasgow late last year for the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, aiming to represent Republican commitments to take on climate action on a global stage.
Representative Kuster, who has been serving New Hampshire since 2013, has also been vocal about climate action on the left. In 2020, Kuster, along with fellow New Hampshire representative Chris Pappas, published a report in December detailing the urgent need to rejoin the Paris Agreement to protect the health and well-being of Granite Staters — an action which newly inaugurated President Biden took on his first day in office in 2021. The representative has also helped introduce bipartisan legislation to remove outdated dams to restore rivers and promote renewable energy in the U.S.
Winters are warming faster than the other seasons. Locally, this means less snow is falling in many parts of the country. By 2050, the western United States could see up to 25 percent less snow, according to a recent study in the journal Nature. Over the past century, western areas of the U.S. have lost 17 days of snow cover, while winters in the Northeast, Upstate New York and the Midwest, have lost 21 days of snow cover.
Supporting the troubled ski industry is only possible if legislators work together regardless of politics, Congresswoman Kuster told GlacierHub in an interview. “If Congress is going to take action to address rising temperatures and extreme weather patterns that impact communities across the country, it must do so with a united front.”
Currently, Kuster and Curtis are working to pass the Ski Hill Resources for Economic Development Act, known as the SHRED Act. Introduced in June 2021, the bill would establish a Ski Area Fee Retention Account that would help support recreation improvements in ski areas by establishing a funding account within the U.S. Forest Service specifically dedicated to permitting, according to Kuster. These funds can then be used to improve local infrastructure, avalanche forecasts and visitor experiences in ski areas that exist within their National Forest boundaries. In November, the bill passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and is now waiting to be voted on in the House and Senate. It also comes in response to Covid-19 related setbacks, which caused the U.S. ski industry to lose at least $2 billion, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
Both Curtis and Kuster stressed the importance of the ski and snowboard industry to supply jobs in their states. In the U.S. overall, the industry supports over 191,000 jobs and generates $6.9 billion in wages, according to a 2016 analysis by Protect Our Winters. “If we can expand support for the ski industry and promote year-round recreation at our ski mountains, we’ll create more year-round jobs and bolster local economies in New Hampshire and across the country,” Kuster said.
“Millions of people come to enjoy Utah’s snow every year, and skiing and snowboarding are huge tourism draws in the winter months which is a huge support to local economies. That said, it’s important that the resorts have the workforce to support the visitors,” Curtis added.
Kuster and Curtis also echoed the role of the caucus in bringing climate conversations to the local level. “Climate change is impacting our winter seasons in New Hampshire — and our ski mountains are feeling it. By raising attention to that fact through the Ski and Snowboard Caucus, it makes the issue of climate change feel closer to home for Granite Staters, regardless of their politics,” Kuster said.
While the Ski and Snowboard Caucus has yet to introduce legislation that directly addresses climate change by cutting emissions or the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels to operate, it provides a space for politicians on both sides to agree on how to protect a future they will face together. “I don’t know one person who doesn’t want to leave this Earth a better place for future generations, and we should focus on that,” Curtis concluded.