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Alarming EPA Climate Study on Snow Sports Economy Released

Yesterday, Protect Our Winters published a link to a new EPA study that estimates that we will lose about 30% of skier/snowboarder visits and snow sports revenue by 2050 due to climate change.  The findings are alarming and potentially dangerous for the snow sports industry but there are some issues with the research and the conclusions regarding both the monetary impact of climate change and the viability of resorts at risk for abbreviated seasons.

This report uses resort data patterns established in the NSAA Kottke end of season report, Forest Service Use Survey data, various climate modeling tools and GIS data to pinpoint resorts and impacts on selected downhill ski and snowboard, cross country ski, and snowmobiling areas across the U.S.  The number of days available for snowmaking is key to this analysis and opening day date changes are projected as well as change in the total number of days available for skiing, riding and snowmobiling.  The news isn’t good for the industry and resorts looking for financial backing may want to bury this report under a few tons of snow.

Snowmaking and Opening Day

The report found that as of winter 2016/2017, 70% of modeled downhill skiing and snowboarding areas can reach 450 hours of total snowmaking by December 15th, but due to climate change, by 2050 fewer than 40% of areas would be able (with current technology) to make enough snow to open before the Christmas holiday.  Note that representatives from several resorts that are shown to suffer most in this report said that 450 hours is a vast overstatement of the number of hours of snowmaking required to open.

 

Season Length                                                        

According to this report, the length of the snow sports season will be drastically shortened due to climate change by 2050.  In the Northeast in-particular, the length of the season is decreased by half by 2050.  For some resorts in the Southeast, the models used in this study suggest that the snow sports season will be reduced to one to two weeks, not by one to two weeks, but to one to two weeks effectively forcing them out of business sometime between now and 2050.

Imagine the impact on the snow sports industry if all resorts shown in pink above closed. The scientists who penned this study imagined just that and estimated that by 2050, there would be 16M to 19M fewer skier/snowboarder visits (from a baseline of 56M) and the industry will lose $1.4B to $1.7B of it’s current $5.4B in revenue (assuming current prices of lift tickets, etc.).  Their financial impacts did not include the supply side of the industry that brings in another $4B in retail sales, and $2.5B in wholesale sales of snow sports gear.  We may assume that impacts described in this report would result in the same level of loss (or greater) to the suppliers of gear at about 30% or $1.2B out of the current $4B at retail and $750M in wholesale declines (not considering natural price increases that keep pace with inflation).

Bright Siding?

Despite these morose predictions for snow sports, the study does not consider anything that could lessen the impact of climate change on the industry.  For example, new resorts could open in climate-friendly locations, snow making technology could improve and abbreviates the number of hours required to blow an adequate base, more people could start participating in snow sports, and changes in equipment technology could reduce dependency on snow conditions.

 

What Now?

This government study does not include any recommendations for the snow sports industry (or anyone else) that could help mitigate the losses suggested in the study’s projections. Seemingly, we would need to stop climate change in its tracks today to achieve that naturally. Considering the current political climate (climate change denial at the top levels of the Executive) and the lack of action to slow the main catalysts of climate change, the snow sports industry is left to ponder its fate and determine next steps. The industry must determine whether to accept the impacts and wither, to consider options including opening new areas for snow sports in less effected regions, improving snowmaking technology, and gear innovations that make skiers and riders less dependent on snow conditions, and/or some other potential solutions or a mix of all to thrive in the next 50 years. In addition to any technological solutions, the report strongly suggests that the snow sports industry has a vested interest in taking every possible step to stop or slow the rate of change in climate.

Download the full report here: Wobus_etal_2017_ProjectedSkiingSnowmobiling

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