It has been a long time practice in the ski industry to condition snow with huge applications of salt. This essay, including citations, was submitted to the media as part of a campaign to bring public awareness to this practice. Following the essay there is more information about salting, including other news stories and educational links. Finally, at the very end is all the contact info you need to send your message to the supervisor of the Mt. Hood National Forest.
Another Season – Another Million Pounds of Salt
If you want to enliven the conversation at your next dinner party – short of ending the party, as can happen these days – try bringing up road salting. Everyone will have an opinion; but, should you then mention that, this summer one million pounds of salt will be dumped on Mount Hood you will see a lot of blank expressions.
The snow belt states have studied and proven the negative impacts to plants, aquatic animals, and water sources caused by salting. These states follow guidelines based on risk management studies.
And, yet, the U.S. Forest Service permits Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood to dump as much salt as the corporation deems appropriate to extend skiing through the summer, without any studies of the environmental effects.
Salting started at Timberline in the 1950’s. Timberline sells lift tickets, meals, and mountain supplies, including the salt, to ski camps that train on the snowfield all summer. To be clear, the concern is not the presence of camps; the concern is super salt toxicity possibly contaminating the environment.
Palmer Glacier and its snowfield is the source of the Salmon River, which flows into the Sandy, and, not surprisingly, there is currently excessive salt in the Salmon system. The Forest Service tracks the salt levels, but it has not studied the effects on flora or the Spring Chinook, Coho, Steelhead, resident trout, and the aquatic food chain.
In 1988, Congress declared the Salmon a National Wild and Scenic River. The Forest Service did a study on how to protect the river. The multi-tons of salt annually dumped for multi-decades at the River’s source was not even mentioned. Ironically, this system is a key part of the state’s recovery plan for salmon and steelhead. It is unknown if salting is affecting recovery efforts costing millions of tax dollars.
The Forest Service is not the only agency that turned a blind eye. The Oregon DEQ did nothing until a lawsuit was filed against Timberline in 1996. The lawsuit argued that salting required a Clean Water Act Certification. Timberline requested one, which ODEQ promptly issued, so the lawsuit became moot.
The ODEQ set thresholds on chloride and total dissolved solids and required “monitoring.” However, it is just data collecting, which is done by a private contractor hired by Timberline. Again, like the Forest Service, ODEQ has not done any investigating to learn the impacts on plants, animals, and water.
Over the past 50 years, there have been many requests for studies on the effects of salting. For example, a PSU study called for more research, and noted that several years of monitoring showed “Conductivity values were determined to be two to three times the values from other snow and glacier fed streams…and sodium concentrations were more than 10 to more than 100 times higher. These levels remain below thresholds of concern suggested by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, but possibly above levels for which species have been adapted.”
The elephant in the room is the meaningfulness of these thresholds, given fifty years of prior salting. Due to the lack of studies it is critical to apply what has been learned in the snow belt; such as, “There is a legacy effect of salt in the environment, which means that concentrations in surface and groundwater will increase, perhaps for decades, even if we stop using road salt today.”
Just as problematic as the lack of investigation is the unwillingness of the Forest Service to take action when thresholds are exceeded. For example, the total dissolved solids were exceeded in eight years out of a fourteen year period, including four years straight, and salting continued.
Sometimes, it is educational to look beyond the borders of our state. The International Olympic Committee permits salting “only to prepare competition runs.” Also, salting glaciers has been restricted in Europe. Many European ski resorts have agreed to use mineral salts only for building World Cup ski race courses.
Mount Hood and its glacier streams is a national treasure managed by the supervisor of the Mt. Hood National Forest on your behalf. Salting will continue until you speak up and tell the USFS, ODEQ and ODFW to INVESTIGATE the effects of salt on our priceless mountain streams.
1. ODOT Five-Year Road Salting Pilot Project
2. Timberline Bike Trails EA: Fisheries B.E., page 50, USFS, 2012
3. Upstream Newsletter, Vol. 2014, Issue 2, Stroud Water Resource Center, 2014
Do Road Salts Cause Environmental Damage? Maryland Department of Natural Resources, 2013
4. Salmon National Wild and Scenic River Environment Assessment, USFS, 1992
5. LCR Conservation and Recovery Plan for Salmon and Steelhead, ODFW, 2010
6. Downstream Effects of Glaciers on Stream Quality, Dougall, PSU, 2007
7. Road Salt, Moving Toward The Solution, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, 2010
8. Timberline Bike Trails EA Appeal Responses, p. 20, USFS, 2013
9. Special wastes, toxic products and pollutants linked to skiing, IOC, Chapter 22.214.171.124
10. The Downstream Effects of Salt Application on Horstman Glacier, Whistler, BC, Teichrob, UBC, 2010
In 2010, the Willamette Week newspaper published an article about the summer salting program at Timberline Lodge. Read the story here.
The FOMH essay makes references to the policies of the IOC and the International Ski Federation (FIS), and more complete information can be learned by following the links. The FIS regulates ski racing, and there is a very instructive document here by the North American chapter regarding salting. The document explains the complex chemistry involved in how salt hardens snow.
More importantly, the document states the FIS rules on salting, one of which is “Snow hardeners should not be used outside of snow sports competition.”
To be clear, the Timberline summer camps are ski and snowboarding training classes. It is possible to hold these camps for part of the summer even without chemical additives to the snow. Timberline is very experienced in the use of snow farming techniques which go a long way in preserving the snow without the use of salt.
There is almost no scientific research on the environmental impacts of ski industry salting. However, there are several published studies on artificial snow making, and relevant observations of the negative effects of snow salting can be found in these studies.
– A well cited 2003 paper can be read here.
– Another snow making study with salting references is here.
Based on numerous studies done on road salting, there is extensive evidence of the severe ecological damage that can be caused by excessive amounts of salt in the environment. Friends of Mount Hood started a campaign to bring this information to the attention of the public. The U.S. Forest service has been allowing salting at Mount Hood ski resorts without informing the public of the impact that huge amounts of salt are having on the environment.
The responsible course of action is to conduct on-the-ground studies of the two watersheds that flow from Palmer Glacier: Salmon River and Still Creek. In the meantime, the Forest Service should drastically reduce the amount of salt that is used during the summer season at Timberline.
This salting has been going on for over fifty years. It is difficult to cause the Forest Service to change course, but it has changed policies based on public demand. It is time to end this policy of salting without field studies of the impacts to the ecology of Mount Hood.
Send a message to the Supervisor of the Mt. Hood National Forest via Internet:
Write or telephone the Mt. Hood National Forest supervisor:
Mt. Hood National Forest Headquarters
16400 Champion Way
Sandy, Oregon 97055
M – F 7:30am – 4:30pm
Closed 11:30 – 12:30
(503) 668 1700