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.