How a Montana ski area is addressing climate change

Whitefish partners with Protect our Winters

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Photos courtesy of Brian Schott

The community of Whitefish relies on having abundant snow.

Whitefish Mountain Resort, formerly Big Mountain, helps keep the town's tourism engine running throughout the year, not only in winter. But to help ensure that Whitefish is being proactive about drought and climate change, the resort and the town's marketing organization, Explore Whitefish, have teamed up to partner with Protect Our Winters, a climate-awareness organization.


The partnership will raise awareness about climate change, solutions to reduce emissions, and empower people to protect their communities, lifestyles, and livelihoods from a warming planet, according to Explore Whitefish.

Established by the City of Whitefish in 2006, Explore Whitefish is the officially designated organization charged with destination marketing and stewardship of Whitefish, also known as the Whitefish Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Whitefish Mountain Resort was founded in 1947 as Big Mountain Ski Resort and has operated continuously as an independent ski resort owned by Winter Sports Inc. for nearly 75 years. In 2018, the City of Whitefish adopted the Whitefish Climate Action Plan, with the overarching goal of reducing city facility emissions 26% by 2025, using 2016 emissions as a baseline. 

Through the POW alliance, the partnership will work closely with Climate Smart Glacier Country and the Whitefish Climate Action Plan Standing Committee to help drive community discussions, education, and increased actions to reduce emissions, including support for local solar projects. Visitors will be able to contribute to future clean energy initiatives.

“Our way of life in Whitefish is in jeopardy if more action is not taken on climate change,” Dylan Boyle, executive director of Explore Whitefish, said. “With this partnership, we can help in the work to continue to make climate a priority for both residents and visitors and be part of an important cultural shift. It may not change the whole world, but it will help give us more of a fighting chance to save winter in Whitefish for generations to come.”

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Fifteen years ago, pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones saw the mountains around him, the snowpack, and the seasons changing rapidly. So in 2007, he founded POW to help passionate outdoor people protect the places and lifestyles they love from climate change. 

“From smoky summers to shifting, less consistent winter seasons, mountain communities like Whitefish are seeing the effects of global warming firsthand,”  Jones said. “The local community and people from around the country who recreate in Whitefish are passionate about the outdoors no matter where they fall on the political spectrum. We are grateful for the Whitefish community’s partnership with POW and look forward to joint efforts on climate solutions and advocacy efforts.”

The POW community is made up of outdoor athletes, scientists, brands, and hundreds of thousands of people. In the U.S. there are 50 million people who make up what POW calls the Outdoor State, people who regularly recreate outdoors. Together they have the ability to make massive strides in advancing cross-partisan policies designed to protect what they have in common: a love of the outdoors. 

“In my time in this industry I have seen the weather become more volatile and I have watched the beginning and end of our seasons become more tenuous and difficult,” Nick Polumbus, president and CEO of Whitefish Mountain Resort, said “This season has been a good example of that. While the issue of climate change can be seen as a partisan or political issue, this is rapidly shifting — it is a human issue. Climate change will continue to shorten the winter season and make it harder to do the sports we love. Why wouldn’t we want to reverse this and strive to make things more efficient and cleaner?”

A new study reports that in about 35 to 60 years, mountainous states are projected to be nearly snowless for years at a time if greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked and climate change does not slow. The Rocky Mountains are warming twice as fast as the global average and Montana’s glaciers are predicted to soon disappear.

If global emissions stay on the same trajectory, 20 of the 21 destinations that have previously hosted the Olympic Winter Games won’t be viable for safe, fair competition by the end of the century.

“The City of Whitefish has made the mitigation of climate change a priority,” Whitefish mayor John Muhlfeld said. “We welcome this partnership as we continue our community’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for the protection of our environment.”


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