"And if the snow buries my neighborhood, And if my parents are crying then I'll dig a tunnel from my window to yours, yeah a tunnel from my window to yours."
--The Arcade Fire, "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"
When I was a kid, I remember walking in tunnels of snow," says 25-year-old alpine skier Steven Nyman, who won his first World Cup downhill race this year. "It was like that Arcade Fire song where they talk about digging tunnels in the snow to get from house to house. Now it seems like it only happens every five to 10 years. I lived in Sundance, Utah, which prides itself on being environmentally friendly--we used to get so much snow. Now it's two- to three-foot snow banks. I remember six- to eight-feet back in the day. But I was a lot shorter then."
Nyman's not kidding--at 6'4", he's among the tallest World Cup competitors--but the rapid deterioration of coveted "powder" on the slopes is obvious at any perspective. Traveling the world with the U.S. ski team, Nyman and other skiers, snowboarders and top winter athletes have found themselves chasing off-season snow, missing out on crucial contests cancelled due to unseasonable 60-degree weather, or competing in rough conditions as the snow rapidly melts and compacts beneath their skis and boards. They've been trying to out-run global warming's effects.
Hockey players are getting nervous, too. While the pros all play in controlled, indoor arenas, many of them started on outdoor ponds and lakes. Hockey's biggest legend, Canadian Wayne Gretzky (currently the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes), first skated with the neighborhood kids on a backyard rink built by his dad. Now, from Canada to Vermont, New York to Boston, the tradition of outdoor skating has nearly been lost.
One of hockey's most outspoken eco-advocates is 28-year-old Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who's pushing for a carbon-neutral commitment from the entire National Hockey League. Ference's Canadian childhood was spent building snow forts, skiing through powder and skating on the family tennis court that his dad froze over so the local kids could play hockey.
Over the last few years, all of that has begun to change. "The Ottawa canal, which everybody skates on, was unskatable for much of last winter just because it didn't get cold enough," says Ference. "That was a big turning point because a lot of people in the hockey community said, 'Geez, you know, I can't go skating in Ottawa in the winter,'...