The End of Snow Sports?

New research done for Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council puts dollar signs on something we already know: climate change is killing the snow sports industries.

No-snow_feyuriy kulik/Shutterstock

Jeremy Jones and Chris Steinkamp, founder and executive director, respectively, of the snow sports environmental activism organization Protect Out Winters, have been making annual pilgrimages to Washington, D.C., to ask legislators to support climate change bills. The ski and snowboard industries, they've explained, are extremely vulnerable to a warming planet.

"What they told us," says Steinkamp, "Is 'Great, but we can't do anything until we see the facts. We need some ammo.' The anecdotal [evidence] that athletes gave us [wasn't] enough."

The first round of that ammunition was released today, in the form of a report that forecasts significantly depleted snowpacks in many parts of the U.S. by the end of the century and ties these forecasts to business implications for the snow sports industry.

Low-snow years between 1999 and 2010 already led to the loss of around 13,000 jobs and 15 million fewer skier visits to resorts. "The difference between a good snow year and a bad year is between $800 million to $1.9 billion in reduced economic activity in the U.S.," says Matt Magnusson, the report's co-author and an adjunct lecturer for the University of New Hampshire.

With forecasts showing a warming trend of four to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in winter temperatures by the end of the century, with less snowfall and a shorter snow season, the number of jobs lost between a good and a bad snow year could grow to 27,000.

During a call with reporters, Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Ski Company, didn't mince words. "The ski and snowboard industry has known for years that climate change threatens the existence of the business," he said. "This report puts financial metrics behind that change. The solution should be for ski industry leaders and trade group leaders to get off their asses and move as if this were an existential threat to their business, which is what it is."

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