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Artist paints with snow to raise awareness about climate change

painting with snow
Posted at 4:13 PM, Mar 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-08 16:34:58-05

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Skiers and snowboarders are noticing changes in the winter around them.

Climate Central, a nonprofit that aims to bring awareness to how a changing climate affects people, reports that winters across the contiguous U.S. have warmed by an average of nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century. Those changes are noticeable for skier Lexi Dowdall.

“I just love to ski. I've built my whole life around skiing," Dowdall said.

As familiar as the terrain at Snowbird resort in Utah is to Dowdall, she never gets sick of it. Instead, she learns more from the mountains while shredding fresh powder.

"Mountains do a lot to put everything in perspective and, I think, having the opportunity to do that on a regular basis is really a privilege," Dowdall said.

That perspective has shifted throughout her life, most recently focused on winter changing around her.

"You talk to some of the old veteran patrollers up at Snowbird and the nature of the storms are changing, the water content of the storms are changing. It's something we need to pay attention to," Dowdall said.

The concern prompted a call to action. She put her ski poles away, picked up a paintbrush and started recreating the 15 ski areas scattered across Utah.

"When the pandemic shut down, my job in the ski industry— I suddenly had so much free time. So, I picked up my paints. My grandma was a painter and she had loosely taught us how to watercolor, but I did a 100-day challenge to try to teach myself how to watercolor and that's kind of how I got started on this painting journey," Dowdall said.

She captures a moment on the mountain that is both beautiful and connective. She collects snow that later becomes the water for her painting.

"I usually try to grab snow from either the most iconic run at a ski area or maybe my personal favorite run or a memorable run," Dowdall said. "It's nothing too complicated. I just bring an empty recyclable and look for some good snow and try and fill it up. But then when I tell people, "Oh, I actually painted this original painting with snow from Brighton from solitude, their eyes kind of light up and they're like what."

She's aiming to use art to start bigger conversations about the climate.

"Connect people and reel them in by catching them with something they aren't care deeply about and forming that initial connection makes it so much easier to have a conversation," Dowdall said.

People depend on snow for drinking water. The EPA says snow helps provide 75% of the water supply in the western U.S. This includes the Wasatch Mountain Range where Lexi lives.

"A couple of scientists at the University of Utah did a study where with the current modeling and information we have available, we might not have snow in the Wasatch by the year 2100, so that to me was kind of a wakeup call," Dowdall said.

According to Climate Central, the coldest days aren't as cold and the cold snaps don't last as long. The group chose 238 locations across the U.S. and found winters have warmed in 97% of test sites since 1970.

"Being up in these mountains— it’s kind of elemental. It kind of keeps you humble. It keeps you feeling alive," Dowdall said.

Dowdall hopes her art will spur people into taking action to preserve the beauty of the snowy ski slopes.