Report: Ski Industry Sees $1 Billion In Global Warming Losses

by Bob Berwyn, via Summit County Voice

A new report on the economic costs of global warming to the ski industry will resonate especially loudly during Colorado’s second consecutive early season snow drought.

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.

The largest changes in the estimated number of skier visits between high and low snowfall years between November 1999 and April 2010 (over one million visits) occurred in: Colorado (-7.7 percent), Washington  (-28 percent), Wisconsin (-36 percent), California (-4.7 percent), Utah (-14 percent), and Oregon (-31 percent).  The resulting difference in economic value added to the state economy ranged from -$117 million to -$38 million.

“This data reaffirms the fact that ski resort CEOs and trade groups leaders have a fiscal responsibility to both understand climate change and respond at scale,” said Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability, Aspen Ski Company. “That should be the industry’s highest priority.”

The industry has taken a few shaky steps toward reducing its own carbon footprint with forays into renewable energy, but the lodging sector in particular is still a carbon-producing energy hog, and certain aspects of resort operations, including snowmaking, are far from sustainable.

Resorts have also advocated for changes in national climate and energy policy, supporting  Senator Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M) Clean Energy Standard Legislation. In June, 89 ski areas sent a comment letter in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Power Plant Carbon Emissions Standard. Finally, in July, 99 ski areas sent a letter of support to Senate leadership urging the extension of the Wind Energy Production Tax Credit.

Even tougher times could be in store for the industry unless climate change is slowed, stopped and reversed.

“Without intervention, winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees 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,” the report concludes.

The impact of less snow and fewer people on the slopes, is already apparent across the U.S., according to the report, which comes on the heels of a season during which about half of all U.S. ski areas opened late and closed early, with every region experiencing a decrease in overall days of operation.

December 2011 through February 2012 was the fourth warmest winter on record since 1896 and the third lowest snow cover extent since 1966, when satellites began tracking snow cover.

“The winter sports industry’s dependency on consistent snow is serious business,” said Chris Steinkamp, executive director, Protect Our Winters. “Without a stable climate, our industry, our jobs, the economies of mountain communities everywhere and the valued lifestyle of winter will be gone. Climate change is the greatest environmental issue of our time and it’s got the winter sports community directly in its sights. It’s our obligation as athletes and businesspeople, parents and citizens, to act.”

Bob Berwyn is Editor of Summit County Citizens Voice. This piece was originally published at Summit County Citizens Voice and was reprinted with permission.

18 Responses to Report: Ski Industry Sees $1 Billion In Global Warming Losses

  1. fj says:

    Yep, didn’t get my season pass this year; first time in more than 10 years; in a place that there’s been temps at -36 degrees f for 2 days straight.

  2. Paul Klinkman says:

    Certain industries such as tourism have to face the public directly on climate change. They’re the industries that need to (a) look like they’re doing something, or (b) they actually need to do something because their customers aren’t stupid and they’re leaving.

  3. On the one hand, we can look to skiers to be good allies who may rally to the cause.

    On the other, skiing itself is exactly the sort of fossil-fueled activity that, in its tiny, incremental way, is killing us.

    Flying across the country to drive up a mountainside in the Rockies to be hauled up a lift for a few moments of thrill, then to be warmed in a gigantic hotel and fed seafood. It really doesn’t get much more decadent than that.

  4. catman306 says:

    Maybe the ski industry can mount up a class action suit against the big fossil fuel corporations. Somebody’s got to do it for this and for a hundred other reasons.

  5. Ozonator says:

    Part of the propaganda cycle of extremist media outlets is to include weeks of global cooling – like Evil Inhofe and his igloo. Yet, their gift shops never include a line of cold weather gear – even when Mittens Romney was doing their bidding.

  6. Anony Mouse says:

    “few moments of thrill, then to be warmed in a gigantic hotel and fed seafood”

    You’ve… never been skiing, have you?

  7. Superman1 says:

    “Flying across the country to drive up a mountainside in the Rockies to be hauled up a lift for a few moments of thrill, then to be warmed in a gigantic hotel and fed seafood. It really doesn’t get much more decadent than that.”

    You nailed it!

    All of the species on this Earth, save one, live with about the same energy footprint as when they first appeared. My belief is that this is the energy footprint that was designed to be sustainable. We, humankind, have increased this initial energy footprint by orders of magnitude, and there is no evidence that it will have long-term sustainability. I should probably generalize this statement to ‘resource’ footprint.

    I suspect the sustainable resource footprint is closer to that of the Pennsylvania Amish or indiginous Native Americans than to the ski-resort jet-setters who keep GDP alive. Based on Kevin Anderson’s results, if we want to have even a remote outside chance of surviving, living this low energy footprint way for at least the next three or four decades is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for survival.

  8. Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

    Add Moab mountain biking to the list. The town is totally dependent on tourism at this point in time, no diveristy economically. And it’s an isolated place, not close to anything people wise, so everyone has to travel a long way to ride their bikes up the trail a few miles. (BTW, used to be an avid MTBer myself.)

    Moab is now seeing the writing on the wall and instead of diversifying, the town is building a hugely expensive bike path down the RIver Road, trying to attract even more tourists.

    The irony is, it claims to be an environmentally sensitive place. When it gets called to the rug for this (mostly by writer Jim Stiles), the business interests act like any other business interests and cry foul.

    I’m in Moab as we speak and we’re having what I would guess form my 20 years here to be the mildest winter to date. Light jacket weather. Soon, it will be too hot here to recreate except for a few short months a year.

  9. Somehow I think our shrinking food production and dwindling summer water supply will be a bit more important to people.

    Skiing can be fun but it is waaaaaay down my list of concerns for the emerging climate crisis.

  10. Doug Brockman says:

    Skiing is highly over-rated. Besides most of the skiers, who are rich, should be able to travel north to get to Canadian slopes once climate change hits.

  11. fj says:

    Yes all the commercial stuff involved with skiing is very wasteful but the act of skiing is quite exhilarating and elegant on powerless vehicles of the smallest possible size and aside from walking up the system perhaps could also be quite elegant if people could arrive at summits using lighter than air vehicles and other types using thermals.

    Speed skating is also along this line which is the fastest unassisted sport only using human power where elite athletes coming out of turns can exceed 40 miles per hour.

  12. fj says:

    Some of the fastest vehicles for many years were ice boats clocked at something like 144 miles per hour as far back as 1914 (if I am not mistaken).

  13. fj says:

    And currently, under development are very fast wind vehicles achieving amazing speeds on land and water.

  14. fj says:

    And the future may not be that bleak after all if we are able to design for it correctly.

  15. Paul, I agree, and I hope to see the ski industry finally ski the slope, and move from your (a) to your (b).

    Haven’t seen it yet though. Lots of (a) and hardly any (b).

  16. accidentalfision says:

    One advocacy group I’ve heard of:

  17. binky bear says:

    Cross country skiing is fun and exercise and is equally threatened. Anchorage had almost no snow until this last weekend despite extremely cold unseasonable subzero temps. Climate change has also borked my bicycle commuting due to the extreme cold.
    It shouldn’t be some moral victory for someone to point a finger at someone else’s sport and mock its demise due to climate change. I started out snowboarding when you couldn’t ride the lifts, near a place where until the 1960s you could ride an electric train powered by renewable hydropower to a railroad operated electrically powered ski area. We have gone backwards since then-there are not even tracks where that renewable powered electric railroad ran.
    Lets push for a positive solution that not only makes healthy recreation more likely but reduces the environmental costs as well, because the more people enjoy the outdoors the more likely they are to try to save it.