A chilling forecast for ski resorts and enthusiasts

Rosemary McClure

Skiers, snowboarders and ski resort operators need to take their heads out of the snow long enough to notice that their sport is in danger of melting away, according to the authors of a new tourism report released last week.

The study, which predicts U.S. winter tourism is in for tough times if climate change goes unchecked, is aimed mostly at the tourist industry. It details an estimated $1 billion loss over the last decade due to diminished snow-fall patterns and the resulting changes in the outdoor habits of Americans.

The financial analysis paints the picture of an even grimmer future—with an eventual end of winter sports due to the lack of snow—unless climate change is slowed, stopped and reversed,

A primary goal of the study is to "mobilize different voices so that they'll send a message to the president and Congress telling them this is a problem we need to address," said Antonio Herzog, assistant director of the Climate and Clean Air Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The report was prepared for the NRDC and for the group Protect Our Winters (POW) by University of New Hampshire researchers.

"Without intervention, winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century," the report says, "with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall, and shorter snow season. Snow depths could decline in the west by 25 to 100 percent. The length of the snow season in the northeast will be cut in half."

Shrinking numbers of winter sports tourists hurts resorts, and also the bottom lines of restaurants, lodging, gas stations, grocery stores, and bars, according to the report.

"In order to protect winter—and the hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend upon a snow-filled season—we must act now to support policies that protect our climate, and in turn, our slopes," says Herzog.

According to the report's authors, the impact of less snow and fewer people on the slopes is already apparent. December 2011 through February 2012 was one of the warmest winters on record in the United States. Fifty percent of ski resorts opened late and 48 percent closed early, with every region experiencing a decrease in the days of operation.

"The winter sports industry's dependency on consistent snow is serious business," said Chris Steinkamp, executive director, Protect Our Winters.

"Without a stable climate, our industry, our jobs, the economies of mountain communities everywhere and the valued lifestyle of winter will be gone. Climate change is the greatest environmental issue of our time and it's got the winter sports community directly in its sights. It's our obligation as athletes and businesspeople, parents and citizens, to act."

The report is available online at http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/climate-impacts-winter-tourism.asp