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snow of tomorrow

Snow of Tomorrow | Hello winter, how are you?

A winter that doesn't feel like it

by Jan Imberi 04/17/2023
It is difficult to write about winter when it "does not" exist. It becomes a reminiscence that is objectively supported by a multitude of measurements and scientific studies and comparisons, but is subjectively nourished by a feeling that increasingly fades the longer and more often it is absent. At the end of the Snow of Tomorrow season, PGler Jan reflects on the past winter that wasn't one and those that are yet to come.

Well, it's not as if winter will be completely absent. And it is also unlikely that this will be the case completely in the near future. Rather, it is likely that there will continue to be some kind of colder phase until the earth tilts off its axis at some point. But whether this "winter" will still feel like the winter we remember is questionable.

Winter also arrived late this year. A lack of precipitation and excessively high temperatures have kept us waiting a long time for snow in Central Europe. The initial high at the start of the season was soon followed by a prolonged low. Droughts in Italy and record-breaking precipitation deficits in France reflect the thin layers of snow and barren mountain slopes that we encounter everywhere on our searches for first tracks and pow shaded slopes.

Even at 2000m, snow was literally scraped together to maintain the pistes to the lifts. To do this, snow groomers tear up the earth with their shovels and chains, destroying sensitive ecosystems. Even helicopters are now being used to transport snow to lower altitudes. There is a reputation to lose and the fear of an economic emergency is great. We have already become accustomed to the fact that the only reminders of valley descents are signposts, like signs of a bygone era. But things are now getting scarce at higher altitudes too.

The global, fossil-fuel-based commitment to the desperate attempt to resist change is difficult to estimate and is also not communicated all too readily. This is understandable, as the image of an entire industry depends on it. An employee of Lenzerheide Bergbahnen AG, a medium-sized ski resort in Graubünden, estimated that 600,000 liters of diesel are used per season just to prepare the slopes. This could supply an apartment building with energy for 30 years.

The footprint for one day in the ski resort amounts to around 49 kg of CO2 including the outward and return journey. That's a lot when you consider that the average annual per capita consumption is 11.2 tons, or 30 kg per day, according to the Federal Environment Agency. One day of skiing therefore increases our footprint by a further 40%. This also contributes to our annual CO2 footprint, which in Germany is already 60% higher per person than the global average.

But alongside all these observations, facts and figures, the moving, subjective question arises:

What kind of feeling does the change and absence of winter leave us with?

How do we cope when winters are at best cooler phases in which there is only widespread snow above 2500m? It's understandable that our flight instinct kicks in and we think of places that guarantee low temperatures and lots of precipitation. But these are just symptoms of withdrawal and they don't change the fact that we can't reverse the trend. We must therefore ask ourselves what role we want to play in this context in the future. Do we remain on the side of the consumer or do we become active and forego comforts and privileges?

I find it difficult to describe the feeling that the winter of 2023/2023 leaves me with. I am unsatisfied and disillusioned because my senses are not being stimulated in the usual way and because imagination and experience no longer coincide. I am missing the triggers. The muted sound of a snow-covered landscape, the smell of fresh snow, the feeling of cold cutting my skin and the light of the reflecting snow surface blinding me. Winter could only offer me fractions of these deeply internalized and associated sensations. As a result, my brain doesn't produce enough endorphins and instead makes me feel unsatisfied.

So what can be done to change this feeling?

Unfortunately, I don't have the answer. What is clear, however, is that our attitudes and actions as winter sports enthusiasts need to change fundamentally. There are various ways to bring about such changes. A combination of several approaches is probably the most promising. I am convinced that change starts with each individual. Giving up habits and accepting to "step out of line" is certainly not always easy. However, it is precisely this impulse that is crucial for change.

I think the citizens' movement, which has been around since the 1970s, has achieved a lot, but is still being blocked in important areas, especially politically. The larger the group that actively wants change becomes, the more change inevitably occurs because it becomes capable of gaining a majority and consequently political power. We can already see this in many examples today.

The real problem, however, is much more profound and of an existential nature. Humans are at the bottom of the food chain. They have limited resources, the preservation of which is the basis of their existence. However, the social and economic system in which they live, capitalism, is based on the assumption and principle of constant growth and increasing profits. A principle that is not compatible with sustainable economic activity, as the latter does not generate profit. The assumption that we can maneuver our way out of the crisis with a green, capitalist economic system is a fallacy. If only because we will hardly be able to achieve the global energy input required for a "keep it up but green" approach, and above all not in the time it takes to reach critical tipping points.

We are therefore at a crossroads and may still have a short time to choose between an orderly retreat with a shutdown of our system, our production and consumption services, or collapse due to increasingly hostile living conditions on our planet. The former seems to be the wiser, albeit extremely difficult, solution. However, it will certainly not be without loss.

In the end, it is less a question of "what?" than "how?". Of course it's good to stop eating meat, buy organic produce at the farmers' market, wear vegan sneakers and pants made from bamboo fibers and T-shirts made from recycled ocean plastic and only travel by bike or train, but in the end it's about something much more fundamental. We need to change our consumer behavior.

In 1972, the Club of Rome published "The Limits to Growth", a study on the state of humanity and the future of the global economy. At that time, it was predicted that humanity would exceed the critical mark of 100% of its available resources by 1980. Today we are at 180%. And the trend is still rising.

So what are the measures and options that we as winter sports enthusiasts can offer?

  • Boycotting the ski resorts?

  • Exiting the capitalist system?

  • Self-sufficiency and renunciation?

  • Political activism?

  • Revolution and the mobilization of all comrades-in-arms and like-minded people?

That's probably what it boils down to.

Let's get back to the starting point: Hello winter, how are you? This sentimental question seems quite insignificant in relation to the scale of the changes we are likely to face. After all, in view of the rapidly melting glaciers, an exploring terminal moraine landscape can also have its charm...

This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

Show original (German)

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