Colorado Ski Industry Faces Losses Due to Climate Change

A recent study in the journal Current Issues in Tourism found that ski resorts across the U.S. have lost billions of dollars and some ski days to climate change.

The goal was to measure how the ski industry has already been impacted by comparing seasons between 2000 and 2019 to seasons in the 1960s and 70s — a time where human-induced climate change was not as present.

Study authors found that seasons between 2000 and 2019 were around five to seven days shorter than previous years. Some experts attribute these losses to warmer winter temperatures and the decline in snowpack over the years.

“In some cases, you’re going to see a loss of the ability to put a financially viable or even physically viable ski product on the hill,” said Daniel Scott, a professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and an author on the study. “So those destinations, those key area operators will have to adapt to those losses.”

Ski areas also lost around $5 billion because there were less visitors and because of increased snowmaking costs. Study authors said these estimates are conservative, because they do not account for revenue loss at hotels and restaurants in surrounding communities, nor do they account for maintenance or expansion of the snowmaking technology.

“Snow is currency,” said Auden Schendler, the Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen One. “When it’s snowy, we make more money. And that’s true, not just to the ski industry, but of all winter economies.”

Resorts in the Rocky Mountain region had the lowest losses of the four regions studied — the Northeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountain Region and Pacific West. But Scott said that as other ski resorts fall out of the market, Colorado will face additional challenges.

“They’ll have to be able to accommodate more people and provide the same skier experience,” he said. “So you’re gonna have to have not just more snowmaking, but lift capacity, parking capacity, retail, all the things that come with that skier experience.”

Some major ski resorts do not see the lack of competitors as a win. Schendler described how people learn how to ski on the small hills at the mom and pop shops because it’s more affordable and not as scary. That’s where confidence is built to consider a week-long trip to Aspen.

“The industry depends on those feeder resorts or smaller resorts,” he said. “So you can’t say, ‘Well, Aspen will be good in 50 years,’ if there’s no industry behind it.”

Even if large-scale emissions are reduced, study authors predict that resorts could lose two to four weeks in the ski season, as well as $650 million annually, by 2050. Those estimates jump into months and billions of dollars with higher emissions.

Some resorts and organizations are taking action. The National Ski Areas Association has developed a snowmaking study that looks to decarbonize snowmaking and prioritize energy efficiency. Copper Mountain hosts an annual ski conservation summit in the summer to share ideas on how to improve the industry’s sustainability efforts. And Aspen has published this year’s sustainability report that reports their house’s numbers as well as their advocacy for the industry at the policy level. Aspen also helped fund the study published in Current Issues in Tourism.

“We’re all in the same boat,” said Jeff Grasser, the sustainability manager at Copper Mountain. “We have a chance to choose, what is our future going to be like? What are the things that we can do now, to alter that course … we believe that together we can ensure that future generations can play forever in the mountains.”

But despite all these efforts, Schendler said a global problem will not be solved by the effort of individual resorts — skiers need to get involved as well.

“It’s more meaningful as a human being, to go participate in a cause greater than yourself than to just go get some big air and ask your friend how you looked going over that jump,” he said.

This story is from AP Storyshare.

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