The Impact of Climate Change on Skiing and Mountain Communities

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.

-Dave VanLandingham

Works Cited

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.

 

 

 

 

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6 Responses to The Impact of Climate Change on Skiing and Mountain Communities

  1. Molly Mordan says:

    It amazes me what a chain-reaction effect increased levels of CO2 emissions have on individual communities, businesses, industries, and the larger sectors of the economy. I think the ski industry is just one example of how many people unfortunately don’t care about the environment unless it directly affects them or unless they have been extensively informed of the environmental threats to come in the future. This is just one example of how global warming does not just mean the planet is a hotter temperature, but it means that terrain will be altered, ecosystems will be offset, and the way humans interact with, coexist with, and depend on natural elements will be forced to change as well. Everybody should care about the condition of our planet, but sometimes it is harder for people to care or take global warming as seriously as they should when they have not seen its effects firsthand. Lawmakers, factories, and big polluters often make decisions without knowing exactly how those actions, or lack of regulations will directly correlate with environmental degradation and eventually lead to suffering economies or increased costs. If people been begin to look at the problem of CO2 emissions more wholistically and see the potential conflicts, I think everyone will begin to take global warming more seriously.

  2. Joe Balawajder says:

    Hey Dave!

    First off, I feel that this topic was a great topic to choose for the Write and Respond Post 1, and simply by reading the title, one can tell that the idea of sustainability is certainly going to be involved. Opening by giving a background of skiing and also mentioning that the price of skiing is increasing was a great way to begin. While the price of skiing rising is a problem for those who ski, you did a great job immediately mentioning that the real problem is not an economic problem, but rather an environmental problem with carbon emissions, both topics that we have discussed in class. After addressing the issue at hand, you did a great job immediately getting to the solution as you mentioned that scientists believe in order to curb the effects of global warming, carbon dioxide levels must be cut to below 330 parts-per-million. You were also able to express your findings through equations, which helps to back up the information you provided. The two graphs you used also give the reader a visual to understand what you have stated and both were well-timed in terms of your implementation. Lastly, I also feel that you ended your post very well by stepping away from equations and graphs to simply discuss the dangers of climate change, as this will back up the information you had listed prior.
    Great job Dave!

    -Joe Balawajder

  3. Joy Blazofsky says:

    Hey Dave,

    Your post really hits home for me. A majority of my family lives in the Rockies out in Colorado and our family is full of skiers, myself included. The climate changes in Colorado and other skiing towns have effecting my family and our loved ones who live out there year round, not only financially but also the community that comes with skiing towns. The weather in Colorado has become so unpredictable that we haven’t been able to see our loved ones in a few years. On that note, I appreciate that you addressed both the large and small problems that come with this issue. I find it interesting how you smoothly transitioned into the science behind the climate change and what is happening before our eyes that we don’t even realize half of the time. Addressing this issue is a main point in your conclusion, so I think it could be definitely beneficial to observe how these carbon emissions are affecting not only the skier’s lives, but also those who live in the towns year round. Is this causing an influx in mudslides? How is this issue affecting everyday lives of these individuals who live in the area? In today’s society, it is important to think about how seasonal sports and activities are affected by climate change, which leads to economical distress and downfall in the tourist industry in these specific areas. Addressing this issue is important and I think you did a great job at condensing all of your main points in order to make your paper more effective to those who might not know much about this problem. Your solutions are effective in making a point at how individual families are affected financially due to the influx of carbon in the air. Their bank accounts are hurting just so they can enjoy one day on the slopes, which is pricey in saying that they get less and less ski time each year. I’m very interested to see how this issue is addressed in coming years revolving carbon emissions into our atmosphere and how it affects the skiers at large.

  4. Zhaoyang Wang says:

    hey Dave,

    unlike other topic, this topic is very new and fresh. the impact of climate change on ski business. so climate change is a very serve problem, it is not only influence the human’s health problem but also effect the global business, Thus the impact of climate change is everywhere in every aspect.

    second, I was surprising that the ski business i is so important, there are 23 million skier all over the world, and people cost 12.2 billion on ski in each year in the United States, and which means each player cost 530$ each year. which is a lot . I Never thought about small business will have big impact.

    and nowadays, the ski pricing is rising, the problem than people face is not pricing, it is if there are available place to ski. the reason is that the global temperature is rising , and the ice is melting. but I have a question , I heard that in the ski resort , a lot of people use the fake snow to build the ski ground is that real?
    besides, I have another question, what is the mean reason that effect the skill resort ? is because the nearby factories or the waste ? is there any specific example?

    Besides, I was surprise to know that our last ice age occurred after just 5 degree global temperature drops, which is horrible. and it is the big thing to noticed about it.

    To sum up, this is a very new topic, it remind us that to prevent global warming ,because global warming not only effect our health but also effect our business. even the whole community, maybe one day your little habit will destroy a whole community, which is awful. so like you said take the action and just do it .

  5. Lauren Jardine says:

    As a skier and snowboarder who pretty much lives for winter this report caught my eyes immediately. In the winters I work as an instructor so I can definitely relate to how the climate affects the industry. It is absolutely insane how much the environment is facing and yet there are still those that deny it all together. As the winters have become less consistent with snowfall and temperature I have seen ski resorts put more money and energy into making fake snow to make up for the weather. It would be very interesting to see just how much CO2 output comes from the ski resorts themselves to compensate for the consequences of climate change. It is truly a vicious cycle. Another interesting and high cost is the running of ski lifts. As less skiers and snowboarders attend daily, resorts still must use the same amount of energy for the ski lifts. This is no cheap task and while they must spend the same amount, there profit may be much lower than in colder years. It would be very interesting to see the energy and money spent when they are making less and less with each season being more disappointing than the last. Once again super cool read and thanks for sharing.

  6. Dominique C Miller says:

    Hi Dave,
    This topic caught my attention because I’ve never been skiing before and I’ve always wanted to go skiing! I think this topic is a great way for individuals to understand the significance of environmental issues and the reality of what we’re facing such a global warming! This is so important because ski resorts will be affected by this the most, not only will the be in a financial crunch, families won’t be able to ski unless these ski resorts use artificial snow.

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