The Top Sports Science Stories of 2012: A Ski Season Burned at Both Ends

A massive report puts an economic estimate on the effects of climate change on snow sports

A dry run.     Photo: Peter Albreksten/Shutterstock

Last winter was the fourth warmest since records were first kept in 1896 and the third lowest for snow cover extent since that was first measured using satellites in 1966. As a result of the lack of snow, half of the nation’s ski areas opened late and almost half of them closed early. The news going forward doesn’t get better, at least according to a comprehensive report put together by Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They predict that warmer winters, reduced snowfall, and shorter snow seasons will spell economic disaster for the winter sports industry. To demonstrate how climate change might affect the snow sports industry moving forward, their report showed how lower snowfall years and rising average temperatures have affected the $12.2 billion U.S. winter tourism industry.

They listed four key economic findings:

1. "The downhill ski resort industry is estimated to have lost $1.07 billion in aggregated revenue between low and high snow fall years over the last decade (November 1999 - April 2010)."

2. "The resulting employment impact is a loss of between 13,000 to 27,000 jobs (6 to 13 percent employment change), with the 6 percent jobs difference corresponding to over 15 million fewer skier visits."

3. "The largest changes in the estimated number of skier visits between high and low snowfall years (over one million) 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."

4. "In the Eastern region of the U.S. the states with the largest estimated changes in skier visits between low
 and high snowfall years were: Vermont (-9.5 percent), Pennsylvania (-12 percent), New Hampshire (-17 percent), and New York (-10 percent). The resulting difference in economic value added to the state economy ranged from -$51 million to -$40 million."

Over the past decade, the ski industry has responded to changes in temperature and snowfall with technologies to improve artificial snowmaking. That adaptation may not last as the climate continues to warm, according to the report. Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council said that ski resorts should more than ponder that reality. "Hopefully it will change the dialogue," Chris Steinkamp, founder and executive director of Protect Our Winters, told Outside’s Mary Catherine O’Connor in December. "The National Ski Area Association has done great work at the resort level, but they're not doing any lobbying for the climate."

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