A New ‘Protect Our Winters’ Report says Low Snow Years Cost the Industry $1-Billion and 17,400 Jobs

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Early season snowpack has been poor in recent years. Credit: ibtimes.co.uk

It’s been a bad winter for the skiing industry. And more than just being a drag on weekend plans or limiting some resorts to operating with only a few runs (if any), low snow on the mountains is a big hit on the economy. People make fewer trips to the resort, which means resorts hire less staff. The local restaurants, bars, and hotels all feel a little empty, reports outsideonline.com.

A new report by Protect Our Winters (POW), a climate advocacy group based in Colorado, says a low-snow year can cost the ski resort industry more than $1 billion and 17,400 jobs, compared to an average season.

POW’s data has serious implications for the snow-sports industry. As climate change worsens and snowfall becomes less reliable, resorts see less business. If it gets too bad, some resorts might close altogether, which would have economic consequences far beyond the slopes.

“In mountain towns across the United States that rely on winter tourism,” the report says, “snow is currency.”

Dodge Ridge, CA in January 2015, low snow
Dodge Ridge, CA during a low snow season (Jan 2015)

Resorts this year in the Sierra Nevada, Idaho, and Canada have closed early or shut down entirely because of low snow. Others have relied heavily on snowmaking machines. And some resorts have had to rethink how they approach low-snow seasons, like in Lake Tahoe, where the Heavenly Mountain Resort says it will blow up and then clear boulders on some runs to make it easier to ski with less snow.

In 2016, more than 20 million people skied, snowmobiled, or snowboarded. And according to POW, these people added $11.3 billion to the U.S. economy through buying gear, resort tickets, hot chocolate at the lodge, hotel rooms, gas, groceries, restaurant meals, and drinks in bars. In a good season with plenty of snow, that figure can go way up.

Thanks to climate change, big swings in the weather are predicted to get much worse. About two generations into the future, by 2080, the average temperature in the Rocky Mountains during ski season is expected to rise nine degrees, which will lead to 16 percent less snow, according to POW’s report. That means many fewer ski days overall. And in the southern Rockies of Colorado and New Mexico, it could spell the end for some resorts—which could devastate entire mountain-town economies.

“We know the facts,” the POW reports concludes, “and need not lay them out again here in detail: snowfall is diminishing, and the economic consequences are severe. The rising monetary toll is dwarfed by the emotional insult of a lifestyle in decline.”

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