Walsh: The heat is on resorts as winters grow milder
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As local and regional snow-dependent resorts experience their second consecutive early season of warm and rainy weather, a new report said there will be more of the same "unless climate change is slowed, stopped and reversed."
The warning is contained in "Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States" by University of New Hampshire researchers Elizabeth Murkowski and Matthew Magnusson.
They prepared the report for the National Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit environmental organization, and Protect Out Winters, a nonprofit that describes itself as "the environmental center point of the winter sports community."
The 34-page report looks at current snow conditions and the projected impact of climate change on skiing, snowboarding and the snowmobile industry.
It said the $12.2 billion winter tourism industry spread across 38 states "has experienced an estimated $1 billion loss and up to 27,000 fewer jobs over the past decade due to diminished snowfall patterns and the resulting changes in the outdoor habits of Americans.
"Shrinking numbers of winter sports tourists also hurts the bottom line of restaurants, lodging, gas stations, grocery stores and bars," the report said.
"Without intervention, winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4-10 degrees by the end of the century, with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall and shorter snow seasons. Snow depths could decline in the west by 25-100 percent.
The authors said the impact of less snow and fewer people on the slopes "is already apparent across the United States. December 2011 through February 2012 was the fourth-warmest winter on record since 1896, and the third-lowest snow cover extent since 1966, when satellites began tracking snow cover."
They said local and regional resorts weren't the only ones that experienced snow-short seasons a year ago.
According to one snow sports industry survey, "50 percent of responding ski/snowboard areas in 2011 opened late and 48 percent closed early, with every region experiencing a decrease in overall days of operation."
Cross-country skiers, snowshoers and sled-riders in the Laurel Highlands, who also are entirely dependent on natural snow, had little snow to slide and glide on a year ago. The Pennsylvania Cross Country Skiers Association, based at Laurel Ridge State Park, had to cancel a number of events.
With 3.6 million skier/snowboarder visits in 2009-10, Pennsylvania "rivals" the combined total skier/snowboarder visits of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the report said. A visit is defined as one person visiting a ski/snowboard area for all or part of a day.
During lower natural snowfall winters, such as 2001-02 and 2008-09, Pennsylvania saw 12 percent fewer skier/snowboarder visits compared to visits during higher snowfall winters, such as 2002-03 and 2009-10.
The net loss in resort revenue was an estimated $67.6 million with 820 fewer jobs, the report said.
"In the northeastern region of the United States, winter temperatures are expected to increase an additional 6 -10 degrees by the end of the century under a higher emissions scenario," the report said.
"Average nighttime minimum temperatures will likely exceed 32 degrees, reducing the viability of snowmaking as an adaptation strategy. By the end of the century, the snow season will likely be confined to the highland regions."
Although none of us now enjoying snow sports will be around to see if these dire predictions come true, we should do what we can to fight climate change. Carpooling to resorts would be a start.
The report is available online at www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/climate-impacts-winter-tourism.asp.
First Published December 15, 2012 12:00 am