As the climate trends warmer and snowpacks fall, the U.S. ski industry is positioned to suffer acutely, according to a report released Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Protect Our Winters (POW), a snow sports environmental activism organization.
The report draws links between low snow years over the past decade and lost jobs at resorts and related businesses, such as lodging and restaurants. A bad snow year can cost as much as $1.9 billion in reduced economic activity in the U.S., and job losses of up to 13,000, or 6 percent of the industry. Looking ahead, with forecasts showing a warming trend of 4 to 10 degrees F 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 bad snow year could grow to 27,000.
Two researchers from the University of New Hampshire -- Elizabeth Burakowski, a Ph.D. candidate in its Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science program and Matt Magnusson, an adjunct lecturer for its Whittemore School of Business and Economics – used climate forecasts and economic data collected from the ski resort and snowmobile industries to write the report.
Snowmobiling relies on natural snow, but ski resorts increasingly turn to snowmaking to adapt to shrinking snowpacks. That helps keeps the lifts running, but it's a catch-22, since snowmaking is very energy intensive – and expensive. About half of a resort's energy spending typically goes toward snowmaking and is generated for the most part using carbon-emitting power sources. That's not to mention its massive demands on the local water supply.
"The bitter irony is that the response to climate change is to use a lot of energy and further cannibalize the climate. Surely there is a better approach than that,” said Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Ski Company, about contemporary snowmaking.
Next page: Warming nighttime temperatures compound problem