Once upon a time there was Chacaltaya…

The Chacaltaya glacier, located 17,400 ft up the Andes outside of La Paz, Bolivia, was once known as the world’s highest altitude ski run. Ever since its rope tow opened in 1939, Chacaltaya has been attracting skiers from around the world who want the boasting rights for skiing the highest altitude in the world. The site event helped foster Bolivia’s first Olympic ski team. Chacaltaya not only brought tourism and outside business to the local area, but the glacier itself helped to provide the surrounding communities with drinking water as well as hydroelectric energy (Painter, 2009).

Global warming pulled no punches with Chacaltaya, and scientists could only stand idly by as it receded before their eyes at an alarming rate. Jaime Argollo Bautista, director of the Institute of Geological Investigation at the University of San Andrés, La Paz stated: “more than 80 percent of the glacier has been lost in 20 years”, blaming much of the rapid pace of snow melt towards “greenhouse gases caused by global warming” (Romero, 2007).

“Chacaltaya is but a preview of what’s to happen to our other glaciers,” Mr. Argollo said (Romero, 2007), an idea that many environmentalists and ski enthusiasts alike might suggest is actually a preview of what’s to come for the rest of the worlds ski resorts, as more and more mountains experience random and irregular snowfalls.

Without taking into consideration the obvious economical aftershocks for local communities, there is a heartbreaking subplot to the loss of the glacier for the people of La Paz: Chacaltaya ski lodge permanently closed its doors in 2009. Prior to its closure “some members of the Andean Club [talked] of transforming their lodge into a gymnasium where mountain climbers and other athletes could adapt to high altitudes… this would involve redesigning the club’s proud emblem, a condor on skis” (Romero, 2007).

        Regardless, the loss of Chacaltaya has been and will continue to be felt on every level in the communities surrounding this decayed natural spectacle, and its loss only makes us ask ourselves, once again: when global warming forces us to sacrifice such marvels as Chacaltaya, how much more can we shrug and accept?

Painter, J. (2009). Huge Bolivian glacier disappears. BBC. Retrieved from              http://www.news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8046540.stm

Romero, S. (2007). Bolivia’s only ski resort is facing a snowless future. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/02/world/americas/02bolivia.html