Even in heavy snowstorm, Ligety's thoughts on global warming

Wednesday, November 29th 2006, 12:29 pm
By: News On 6

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) _ Even on a day when the men's downhill World Cup training was canceled after a storm dumped 2 feet on snow on the course, triggering threats of an avalanche, Ted Ligety's thoughts were on global warming.

The reigning Olympic combined gold medalist is worried that greenhouse gas emissions will eventually eliminate skiing altogether and rob future generations of the thrills of winter sports.

Two World Cup events already have been canceled because of warm weather, and skiing's governing body has called the situation ``critical.''

``We already see this year the effects of warm weather. We're supposed to be going over to Europe next week and everything is canceled,'' Ligety said Tuesday. ``It's looking like December's going to totally be lacking snow over there and this never would have happened 15 years ago. Every year it gets a little worse.''

The season-opening races in Soelden, Austria, in October were wiped out because of heavy rain, and the women's events set for St. Moritz, Switzerland, on Dec. 9-10 were canceled because of lack of snow. The men's races in Val d'Isere, France, on the same weekend also are in danger.

``When we look at the glaciers back in the '70s and now, we cannot say this is just a short-term phenomenon or a question of fickle weather,'' said Guenther Hujara, director of the men's World Cup. ``The meteorologists have been telling us over 15 years of the risks coming up. Whoever believes we are going into deep weather problems is wrong _ because we are already in the middle of it.''

Ligety, who is working with the World Wildlife Fund to create more awareness about the issue, wants people to contact their politicians to urge them to create policies to curb global warming.

For those who see the irony in Ligety talking about global warming on a day that he schlepped through 24 inches of snow to train in the technical events at Keystone, he noted that races in his hometown were canceled a few years ago because of warm weather.

``This year we have snow, next year we may not,'' Ligety said. ``At this point, I don't think there's many people who can deny there are effects to global warming.''

Fellow Utah native Steven Nyman, an Olympic downhiller, said global warming is a hot topic among others on the U.S. Ski Team who are worried about its effect on skiing. He and combined coach John McBride have had several conversations about it after reading Al Gore's ``An Inconvenient Truth.''

``It's scary,'' Nyman said. ``And we travel around to Chile (for offseason training) and we're deep in the Andes and we see these glaciers every year. We, even being there for three or four years, can watch them deplete. They're going away. And that's very scary because our love is on the snow.''

Yet, Nyman said the top professional skiers are ``probably the worst'' offenders and don't really practice what they preach.

``We're staying in hotel rooms, changing the linens, we're flying here and there and we're driving everywhere. We are using amazing amounts of fuel and resources,'' Nyman said. ``So, it's tough for us to talk as skiers traveling the world.''

Ligety said he's doing what he can: He just bought a new fuel-efficient furnace and will travel in a hybrid vehicle instead of a gas guzzler whenever he can. ``Little things like that can definitely help,'' he said.

Ligety said he believes the sport is in grave danger, especially in Europe, where the races are held at lower elevations. He said ski domes that are becoming popular in Europe aren't any kind of answer. The Snowboard World Cup annually opens in a ski dome in The Netherlands, and there's been talk about staging slaloms indoors, as well.

``I definitely never want it to replace skiing outdoors because the best thing about skiing is it's outdoors, near the mountains,'' Ligety said.

The skiers' concerns, however, aren't universal among America's winter athletes.

Zach Lund of the U.S. World Cup Skeleton Team, which is preparing to start the season Thursday in Calgary, noted that several training runs have been canceled by extremely cold weather this week.

``Right now I could go for some global warming up here,'' Lund said.

``I am concerned about global warming,'' he added, ``but I've never thought about it in the context of my sport.''

Because of good snowfalls in North America, ski officials are working with organizers in Aspen and Beaver Creek to hold some of the abandoned events in Colorado. A decision is expected Wednesday after the governing body decides whether to proceed with the men's race in Val d'Isere.