2018 Protect Our Winters Economic Report

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:


In mountain towns across the United States that rely on winter tourism, snow is currency. For snow lovers and the winter sports industry, predictions of a future with warmer winters, reduced snowfall, and shorter snow seasons is inspiring them to innovate, increase their own efforts to address emissions, and speak publicly on the urgent need for action.

This report examines the economic contribution of winter snow sports tourism to U.S. national and state-level economies. In a 2012 analysis, Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the winter sports tourism industry generates $12.2 billion and 23 million Americans participate in winter sports annually. That study found that changes in the winter season driven by climate change were costing the downhill ski resort industry approximately $1.07 billion in aggregated revenue over high and low snow years over the last decade.

This analysis updates the 2012 study and furthers our understanding of how warming temperatures have impacted the industry since 2001, what the economic value of the industry is today (2015-2016) and what changes we can expect in the future under high and low emissions scenarios.

Taking another look at the changing winter sports tourism sector in America, we find:

• In the winter season of 2015–2016, more than 20 million people participated in downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling, with a total of 52.8 million skiing and snowboarding days, and 11.6 million snowmobiling days.

• These snowboarders, skiers and snowmobilers added an estimated $11.3 billion in economic value to the U.S. economy, through spending at ski resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and gas stations.

• We identify a strong positive relationship between skier visits and snow cover and/ or snow water equivalent. During high snow years, our analysis shows increased participation levels in snow sports result in more jobs and added economic value. In low snow years, participation drops, resulting in lost jobs and reduced revenue. The effects of low snow years impact the economy more dramatically than those of high snow years.

• While skier visits averaged 55.4 million nationally between 2001 and 2016, skier visits during the five highest snow years were 3.8 million higher than the 2001-2016 average and skier visits were 5.5 million lower than average during the five lowest snow years.

• Low snow years have negative impacts on the economy. We found that the increased skier participation levels in high snow years meant an extra $692.9 million in value added and 11,800 extra jobs compared to the 2001–2016 average. In low snow years, reduced participation decreased value added by over $1 billion and cost 17,400 jobs compared to an average season.

• Climate change could impact consumer surplus associated with winter recreation, reducing ski visits and per day value perceived by skiers.

• Ski resorts are improving their sustainability practices and their own emissions while also finding innovative ways to address low-snowfall and adapt their business models.

The winter sports economy is important for the vitality of U.S. mountain communities. This report shows the urgency for the US to deploy solutions to reduce emissions and presents a roadmap for the winter sports industry to take a leading role in advocating for solutions.


This report is about the challenge that climate change poses to winter sports economies, but in the end, it’s about the impact warming is having on snowsports themselves. Which brings up an important question related to climate justice: Who cares? In the last year, climate-enhanced disasters—the sorts of catastrophes we can expect more of as the world continues to warm—have had a tremendous impact on human beings’ ability to simply survive, let alone ski.

In the face of disasters like we saw in Puerto Rico or Houston this year which included the loss of lives, grid shut-downs, health crises, and housing crises, why worry at all about snowsports?

To many Americans, the fading of winter is a visible reality, and the consequences create an emotional reaction connected to a sense of place and personal experience. Talking about snow is one particularly accessible way to engage the American population on an issue that has been viciously difficult to bring to the fore. By protecting winter and snow in mountain communities, we are also protecting the most vulnerable communities and connecting both. We hope that this report will help galvanize all Americans to act on climate —for skiing, snowboarding, and snowball fights, sure, but most importantly for a safer, more equitable future for all. Snowpack doesn’t only support winter sports, it also serves as a water reservoir and increases the albedo effect.

Ultimately, winter sports join ranks with arts and culture, literature, music and song, to create the space for reflection that enables citizenry to care about more than just themselves and their powder turns, but also about what their role is in society. Losing snow to a warming world when we have human innovation and all of the technology at hand to save it, would be a greater loss than pure numbers can quanitfy.

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