Looking Forward: Changing Climate, Changing Adventures

April 1st, 2014 by Lindsay

The influence of climate continues to play a pivotal role in our experience of outdoor recreation in the White Mountains, particularly in winter when most activities depend on particular snow and ice conditions.

The region’s climate is influenced by a complex set of geographic factors, including latitude, mountainous topography, and proximity to both oceanic and continental weather patterns. These, in turn, are affected by trends in global climate. The result is often dramatic variability in winter conditions, experienced both within single seasons and from year to year.

Scientists working in the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, a Forest Service research site near the town of Thornton, have been measuring climate indicators like temperature, snowfall, and ice-out dates in the White Mountains for over 50 years. What they’ve found is that despite this variability that many of us have become accustomed to, two longer term trends are still clear: winters in the White Mountains are getting warmer and they are producing less snow.

What does the future hold for adventure in the White Mountains?

The effects of climate change have already influenced the ski industry, with a transition from small ski areas widespread across New England to large resorts concentrated in the northern mountains. These resorts now rely on substantial artificial snow-making operations to stay in business. Similarly, members of other winter recreation communities—backcountry skiers, snowmobilers, winter hikers, mountaineers, and climbing guides—have also noted the impact of changing winter conditions on their activities. Some of these changes involve characteristics that are central to not only recreation, but also to businesses and culture in the White Mountains.

From a geologic perspective, the ties linking climate, landscape, and human beings are tightly bound. We tap into these connections when we go into the mountains, through our experiences and observations. The mountains hold a deep time, but it is a narrative in which we also participate: the passing of minutes as our heart races during a hike or climb, the passage of generations as our sports and communities evolve, the advance of eons as the ground is altered and shaped.

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