On Feb. 18, Sam Myers (‘16) competed in a Nordic ski meet at Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
Myers, who now skis for the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, faced bizarre conditions for Nordic skiing: it was 60 degrees, and there was no natural snow. The course was comprised entirely of artificial snow, creating a narrow path for the skiers to navigate an otherwise dry park.
“The weather is greatly affecting skiing,” Myers said. “You can tell the difference [between artificial and real snow] because skiing on real snow is like skiing on powder and it’s so much smoother. It feels better and natural under your feet. When you’re on artificial snow it’s much harder.”
February marked the 18th consecutive month in Minnesota with above average temperatures, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. During that span, which began in September 2015, three months—December 2015, November 2016 and February 2017—were over 10 percentage points higher than their averages of 19.7, 33.7, and 20.9 degrees
Warmer weather in winter months creates challenges for outdoor events in Minnesota and sports at Minnehaha. The warm climate might seem like a blessing for Minnesotans who dislike the cold, but it may be permanently altering or even killing outdoor activities.
“If you’re a nordic skier,” said Anne Rykken, head coach of the nordic ski team, “there’s no doubt in your mind after this winter that global warming is real.”
“We have a 91 day season,” said Rykken, “and we were only on snow for 23 of those days.” Of those 23 days, Rykken explained, five were either at Giant’s Ridge or the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota, well north of Duluth. “It’s not typical that we come back from Christmas break and there’s no snow,” she said.
In response to warm winter temperatures, Rykken founded Bike for Snow, a program which aims to raise awareness about climate change by biking instead of driving.
“A big question is, ‘What can the world do about global warming?’ and that’s an overwhelming question,” she said. “ I decided that I was going to try to ride my bike instead of drive my car at least one day a week.”
For Myers and his teammates, over half of their 16 races were on artificial snow. On top of that, the team’s season was shortened due to warm temperatures.
“We start skiing later and later in the season because of the warm temperatures,” Myers said. “Then, we can’t ski into late March or April because there’s just no snow on the ground.”
Although warmer temperatures had a negative impact on nordic skiing, they benefitted spring sports such as golf.
“The courses will open up earlier, and we won’t have to be inside hitting on artificial [turf] mats,” said junior golf captain Carter Bell. “We normally start outside in the beginning of April, but this year we will be able to get out after spring break.”
Bell took to the course for the first time this year in early March, the earliest he has ever been golfing in Minnesota.
Courses across Minnesota have been opening earlier than ever this year. Oak Marsh Golf Club in Oakdale temporarily opened its course for the unusually warm weekend of Feb. 20-22.
From cold-weather sports which require snow, to warm-weather sports which require dry ground, nearly all athletes are affected by warming temperatures.
Rykken hopes that people will understand the significant impacts of global warming.
“Global warming is real,” she cautioned. “For a long time, people haven’t believed it. I’m hoping to try to change people’s attitudes.”