Rising Temperatures Could Cut NE U.S. Ski Industry In Half, Report Says

By Chris Riotta

According to a report by the Interdisciplinary Center on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, less than half of the existing ski resorts operating within the Northeast United States will be economically viable within 30 years, if average temperatures were to rise 2.5 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The US ski industry faced its worst season in history last year, with skier visits down 20 percent. The industry “faced the heat” due to average snowfall declines of 50 percent, with March temperatures well into the 80s throughout much of the U.S.

In a review of the Northeast resort industry, the report estimates that all ski resorts in Massachusetts would close if the temperatures rose as projected. Similarly, only seven of the existing 18 resorts would survive in New Hampshire, with eight of 14 remaining open in Maine. Vermont is projected to be relatively stable, the report says.

Independently owned ski resorts operating in lower elevations would be hardest hit by climate change, the report predicts.

For the present at least, the ski industry is lacing up for what it hopes is a strong recovery from last season. Forecasts for the upcoming ski season predict chilly temperatures and above-average snowfall. “Our past three winters with below-average snowfall and business totals have been followed by incredible winters for business,” said Karl Stone of the trade group Ski New Hampshire. “Knock on wood.”  Still, ski resorts throughout the country are already posting season-pass sales to combat last year’s downturn.

One measure many resorts are considering to combat seasonal uncertainty is an increase in artificial snow making capability. Stowe Mountain in northern Vermont spent $4.7 million this year on snow making. However, the Interdisciplinary Center on Climate Change projects that resorts will need to increase their snow making capacity by as much as 50 percent to retain current profit margins.

But could another casualty of climate change derail this artificially-induced counter-measure by the ski industry, before it gets off the ground?

Water shortages are already a major issue in many regions and global warming is set to exaggerate these existing problems. Industry costs will rise as the demand for stricter control and monitoring of water usage grows. Waste of water in farming and agriculture is already a major concern. “Figures show that our use of water is not sustainable and that 80 percent of abstracted water goes to agriculture,” says Daniel Villesot, former head of the EU’s water industry lobby.  Could eventual water rationing derail industry attempts to artificially produce snow?

There does however, seem to be a growing trend toward “climate acknowledgement” within the U.S. ski industry.  In addition to snow making systems, many resorts are now constructing buildings that are more energy efficient, while at the same time installing small-scale renewable energy.  Some resorts are also introducing alternatives to skiing, such as theater and other outdoor recreational pursuits.  Still, this industry – and many others potentially effected by climate change – have yet to collectively press congress for legislation regarding global warming.  New industry workarounds and acknowledgment of the climate problem are a first step, but government intervention at both the U.S. and international levels, maybe the only true “sustainable” path forward.