The winter sports industry is deeply dependent upon predictable, heavy snowfall, but climate change is expected to contribute to warmer winters, reduced snowfall, and shorter snow seasons. The estimated $12.2 billion U.S. ski and snowmobile winter sports industry has already felt the direct impact of decreased winter snowpack and rising average winter temperatures.
And climate change will spell more trouble, according to research done for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Protect Our Winters (POW), for all businesses dependent on winter weather from snowmobiling, snowboarding, and ice fishing to snowshoeing and skiing — as well as the other related sectors that depend on winter sports tourists, such as restaurants, lodging, gas stations, grocery stores, and bars.
This study aims to help policy makers understand both the ski and snowmobile industry’s current economic scale and the potential economic impacts that climate change may cause. Study details include how historical changes in the winter season have already impacted the ski tourism industry with a focus on the most recent decade’s skiing statistics and a review of historical winter climate observations. It also considers what is at risk from the impact of future winter climate projections.
We know that across the United States, winter temperatures have already warmed 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1895 and the rate of warming has more than tripled to 0.55 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1970. The strongest winter warming trends have occurred in the northern half of the United States, where snow plays an important role in their winter season.
Without intervention, winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall, and shorter snow season. Snow depths could decline in the west by 25 to 100 percent. The length of the snow season in the northeast will be cut in half.
All of this translates into less snow and fewer people on the slopes.
In an American winter landscape where more than three-quarters of states benefit economically from winter sports and where our study finds that nationwide there are 211,900 jobs either directly or indirectly supported by the ski and snowmobile industry, changing snowfall patterns will have a significant economic effect. In order to protect winter — and the hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend upon a snow-filled season — we must act now to support policies that protect our climate, and in turn, our slopes.
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
With the state’s major ski resorts struggling to open just minimal amounts of terrain in time for the busy Christmas holiday season, two University of New Hampshire researchers estimate that the $12.2 billion industry has already suffered a $1 billion loss and dropped up to 27,000 jobs due to diminished snow fall patterns and the resulting changes in the outdoor habits of Americans.
More than 23 million people participated in winter sports during the winter 0f 2009-2010. Snow-related economic activity resulted in $1.4 billion in state and local taxes and $1.7 billion in federal taxes.
The economic study was prepared for the nonprofit groups Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The two organizations have partnered the past few years to raise awareness of climate-change impacts to snow-dependent mountain communities and snow sports industries.
“In the many U.S. states that rely on winter tourism climate change is expected to contribute to warmer winters, reduced snowfall, and shorter snow seasons,” said UNH researcher Elizabeth Burakowski. “This spells significant economic uncertainty for a winter sports industry deeply dependent upon predictable, heavy snowfall.”
The study compared and contrasted differences in skier visits and economic activity between good and bad snow years and used climate models to project the impacts in coming decades.
From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins):
The analysis — authored by a pair of doctoral students from the University of New Hampshire — concludes that the 2.2-degree rise in winter temperatures since 1970 is threatening winter tourism in 38 states. The report said the difference between a good snow year and bad snow year from 1999 to 2010 cost the industry between $810 million and $1.9 billion, 13,000 to 27,000 jobs and 15 million fewer skier visits.
Looking forward, the researchers estimate snow depth could decline to zero at lower elevations in the West and the ski season in the East could shrink by as much as half in the coming decades. In a conference call on Thursday — a day after many towns in Colorado saw record high temperatures for December — the groups urged immediate action on climate change, with government policies that reduce carbon pollution.
Auden Schendler, the environmental affairs chief at Aspen Skiing Co., said the report puts financial metrics behind what everyone in the ski industry has known for years: climate change hurts.
“This data suggests there is monetized risk and the solution should be for the ski industry leaders and trade group leaders to get off their (fannies) and move as if there was an existential threat to the business,” Schendler said. “I’m hoping this report will drive radical change. Skiers are optimists. Here’s an opportunity to do what we do, which is get in there and be active and solve problems in the world.”
The report, however, misses the mark in its analysis of Colorado, home to the most skiing in the country, with 12 million skier visits and 37,000 employees earning $1.2 billion and stirring $2.2 billion in economic activity.
The state did endure declines in skier visits between its snowiest and least snowy seasons in the years of the study — 11.13 million in the relatively dry 2001-02 and 12.54 million in very snowy 2007-08. But the researchers’ conclusion that the state’s resorts and resort communities lost $154 million in revenue and 1,867 jobs is not supported by statistics gathered locally in Colorado.
The report does not include analysis of the 2010-11 ski season — one of the snowiest in decades — and the 2011-12 season, the least snowiest in several decades. The state saw more than 1 million fewer skier visits between those ski seasons, yet most of those visits were in-state visitors who spend less. Dramatic declines in revenues and jobs did not happen between the decade’s highest and lowest snow seasons.