Worldwide, the ski industry is huge. Each year, around 400 million skiers and snowboarders take to the slopes across the planet. With over 2000 ski resorts across 80 nations, skiing is not only a global recreational pass time for millions of people, but also a major economic driver in many mountainous and rural regions across the world. (Vanat, 2) As skiing has grown in participation over the past several decades, the cost of skiing has steadily risen, with daily lift tickets averaging over $100 at popular American ski resorts and even going as high as $175 a day for a single lift ticket to Vail Resort in Colorado in 2017. However, the treat that skiers and the ski industry face is not an economic one that can be solved with raising and lowering prices, but rather an environmental one that can only be solved by lowering global carbon emissions. Climate change, caused by human action since the industrial revolution, is warming the planet and having all sorts of effects on climate and weather which has had, and will continue to have, a severe impact on winters and skiing around the world. Melting glaciers, warmer winters and unpredictable weather patterns mean less skier days per year which ultimately leads to less economic prosperity in mountain towns and ski resort communities. In order to protect the health of the environment as well as the livelihoods of ski communities and mountain towns around the world, carbon emissions must be reduced to a safe level to stop the warming of the planet which is resulting in warmer winters and less snowfall.
Skiing and snowboarding are more than just a sport for many people and go far beyond most recreational pass-times. Entire communities with unique cultures exist because of skiing with micro-economies, created and sustained by the geological features and weather patterns of the region. Without skiing and snowboarding, these communities would not be able to exist, resulting in hundreds of thousands fewer jobs and billions of dollars in lost revenue worldwide, as well as a way of life. According to statistics from the National Economic Impacts from Winter Tourism done in 2009/2010, an estimated 212 thousand people were employed because of winter activities earning approximately 7 billion dollars nationwide. (Burakowski, Magnusson, 5) The ski industry in the United States alone is estimated at around $12.2 billion dollars of the national economy. (Burakowski, Magnusson, 6) 23 million people participated in skiing or snowboarding in the United States during the winter of 2009/2010, meaning each skier was responsible for spending $530.43 that season.
12.2 billion dollars annually / 23 million skiers & snowboarders= $530.43 annually per skier
Obviously, this is an average cost and some more dedicated skiers likely spent more than those trying the sport for the first time, however, it’s undeniable that skiing is expensive. Despite the high costs of participation, the 2014 International Report of Snow & Mountain Tourism shows that skiing participation rates are still increasing and expects there to be around 420 million skiers worldwide by the year 2020. (Vanat, 18)
Graphic: Protect Our Winters [POW] 2012 Climate Report
Far greater than the threat of increased prices is the threat of climate change. A warmer global temperature means fewer skier-days (a unit which measures the number of people skiing or snowboarding for any part of any day) which has a negatively rippling effect across mountain communities. Skier-days only measures participants who purchased a lift ticket or season pass to a resort, it does not include family or friends who may be vacationing without buying a lift ticket, but still spending money on lodging, dining, shopping, transportation etc. So, while less snow might be keeping a skier away, it may also be keeping away another non-skiing visitor who would otherwise be contributing to the local economy. Additionally, climate change has been shown to cause irregular weather patterns, which at times cause delayed winters and so even if statistically a region receives its average snowfall, but delayed a month or so, it can have a huge impact on ski driven economies. For instance, a snow-less December might cause a family to book their spring break vacation to a tropical island rather than a ski town which may or may not have good snow the week they are there. This results in a loss of thousands of dollars to that economy, and all because of climate change.
$530.43 cost per skier (4 skiers/family) = $2,121.72 lost revenue per family
Scientists believe in order to curb the effects of global warming, carbon dioxide levels must be cut to below 330 PPM [Parts per Million]. (Thompson, Kahn, 2) Currently, carbon dioxide levels are at 406.94 PPM and only going up as mankind continues to burn coal, oil, gasoline and other carbon emitting fossil fuels for heat, electricity, transportation and all other aspects that make life easier and more convenient. (NASA, 1) Because of the increased levels of CO2, methane and water vapor, collectively known as greenhouse gases, the earth’s atmosphere is storing more heat which would otherwise radiate away. Human industry and development has already lead to a global temperature increase of 1.4°F since 1880, with nearly two-thirds of that increase coming in the last 40 years alone. Though a degree or two may not seem like a lot, the effect the increase has is huge. The planet has a very sensitive environment and subtle changes cause widespread issues. For instance, the last ice age occurred after just a 5° global temperature drop. (NASA, 2) Conversely, a rise in temperature by just a few degrees is enough to melt polar ice caps, glaciers and other snowy peaks and warmer waters mean stronger, less predictable storm systems-wreaking havoc on coastal towns and mountain towns alike.
Climate change is an undeniable fact with informed and educated people from all political parties beginning to understand the effects as well as the need for change in human action. Much attention is given [and rightly so] to preservation and adaptation of coastal cities and American shorelines as the planet changes and ice caps melt. However, while there is a large conversation happening about America’s coasts, very little attention or discussion goes into how to preserve and adapt mountain towns to survive an inevitably grim future.
Few things bring people together like falling snow and freshly groomed ski runs. There is a culture that exists within the ski community that connects people regardless of age, race, gender, religion, etc. and relies on a shared interest in the mountains and a common passion for skiing. This connection of people is critical, because like all other effects of climate change, the destruction will be shared globally, but will impact some harder than others. Beyond being an enjoyable sport, skiing is a way of life for many people and a major economic driver in many towns across the world. These mountain towns rely on the money spent by skiers and even their non-skiing family members who entertain themselves with the shopping, dining, and other amenities that typically go along with ski resorts. The economic stimulus to these regions is essential and relies on tourism to bring people and money to areas where they otherwise would not have a reason to go.
Combating climate change and stopping global warming are issues far larger than preserving a way of life and the economic prosperity of some, however, if nothing is done, these too will fall victim to a changing planet and atmosphere. Skiing is a perfect example of how technological advancements and developments over the past century have allowed humans to access and explore places never before thought possible, yet in many ways, it’s these unsustainable technological developments which have gotten mankind into its current predicament with the environment. It’s time for humans to take action for their responsibilities and work to correct the issues that have been created, if not for the good of the planet, for the good of skiing.
Burakowski, Elizabeth, and Matthew Magnusson. Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States. Protect Our Winters (POW), 2012, Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States.
“Carbon Dioxide Concentration | NASA Global Climate Change.” NASA, NASA, 17 May 2017, climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/.
Hansman, Heather. “How Ski Resorts Are Fighting Climate Change.” Outside Online, 16 Nov. 2016, www.outsideonline.com/1930841/how-ski-resorts-are-fighting-climate-change.
News, Katherine Bagley InsideClimate, et al. “As Climate Change Imperils Winter, the Ski Industry Frets.” Inside Climate News, insideclimatenews.org/news/23122015/climate-change-global-warming-imperils-winter-ski-industry-frets-el-nino.
Thompson, Andrea, and Brian Kahn. “What Passing a Key CO2 Mark Means to Climate Scientists.” Climate Central, Climate Central, 20 Nov. 2015, www.climatecentral.org/news/co2-400-ppm-scientists-meaning-19713.
Vanat , Laurent. 2017 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism. 9th ed., 2017 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism.
“World of Change: Global Temperatures : Feature Articles.” NASA, NASA, 2014, earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/decadaltemp.php.