A report published jointly this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Protect Our Winters notes global warming is making winters warmer, and snowfall lighter – especially at lower elevations. That, the report’s authors say, will cost jobs and cash in the nation’s snow sports industry.
“Snow is currency in the 28 states that benefit from (winter sports),” said Elizabeth Burakowski, researcher at University of New Hampshire and co-author of the report titled “Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States.”
“The core of this analysis found that winter sport activities supported 211,900 jobs earning a total of $7.0 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits. In turn, this economic activity resulted in $1.4 billion in state and local taxes and $1.7 billion in federal taxes,” the report states. (Read the full report at Climate Impacts on Winter Tourism.)
The sports also generate more millions in equipment sales and such ancillary businesses as food sold to tourists who travel long distances to enjoy their sports.
Pennsylvania accounted for about 12,000 snow sports jobs in the 2009-2010 season.
But the average temperature in Pennsylvania has increased 1–1.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 1970 and 2011.
In my early years, an interstate snowmobile highway crossed my parents’ land in Maine, and the lake in our front yard. A few miles to the north, the trail passed behind one of my favorite restaurants, the owners of which had plowed and packed a usually full snowmobile parking area. The “highway” then crossed into Quebec. In fact, it was possible for snowmobilers to drive their machines from Maine to Minnesota, maybe beyond.
While out in the plow truck at 2 a.m., keeping roads open and watching for drivers who should have waited until the next day to head out, I’d watch “mobile snowstorms,” their skis nearly invisible in fast moving blizzards blowing off the tops of northbound vehicles, pass the plow rig. Out of state drivers headed for Sugarloaf USA, one of the premier ski mountains in the U.S., were intent on being among the first to schuss down the slopes on new powder.
Closer to where I now live, the storms typically are not as dramatic, but parking lots at Ski Liberty are full to overflowing during and after a snowfall, albeit often aided by the roar of trail-side snow-making blowers.
The NRDC/POW report suggests much of that tourism and sports participation may be coming to an end as the planet warms as much as 10 degrees by the end of the century
“A bad snow season hits the economy of three-quarters of U.S. states,” said Antonia Herzog, assistant director of the NRDC Climate and Clean Air Program.
A four-person panel presented the report, and called upon the snow sports industry to make a concerted effort to impress their legislators, including their congressional delegations, to take action to slow global warming. They noted that reduced snow means reduced tourism, reduced skiing, and reduced employment and taxes.
Ski Liberty is smaller than some of the facilities in Maine and Colorado, and does not rely on natural snowfall to provide ski-able slopes.
“We all (mid-Atlantic resorts) have 100 percent snowmaking,” said Eric Flynn, vice president and chief operating officer of Snow Time Inc., owner of three snow resorts in south central Pennsylvania.
“We wouldn’t exist (without snowmaking),” he said of the lower altitude, lower latitude resorts. Besides, state of the art snowmakers and generate more snow from less water and in less time, at slightly higher temperatures – though by higher temperatures he means about 30F. Snow still requires below-freezing temperatures.
But though less snowfall is not a problem for Mid Atlantic ski area operators, warmer temperatures can be. Warm weather is not skiing weather in the minds of many snow sports aficionados. Real snow, Flynn said, is “great marketing stuff.”
If only for promotional purposes (speaking solely of ski areas), Mid Atlantic ski slope operators have a strong interest in keeping global warming, and its effect on winter weather, at the fore.
I am fairly certain, as I read the prognostications of weather forecasters and other scientists, that we are heading into warmer, rainier winters. Maybe I will get less use from my two-year-old snow thrower than I’d planned when I slipped the plastic money across the counter at Lowe’s.
I’m glad the three ski mountains near my home can make enough snow to operate even on warm, spring-like or fall-like days.
But I also am glad operators like Flynn keep the issue high in their consciousness. The end of the century, with its forecast 10-degree temperature increase, is far enough off that even my grandkids probably will not be personally concerned. But their kids will be, especially if they decide they want to ski fast down a snow-covered mountain, and a cold day in winter is 40 degrees, and Sugarloaf and Aspen have one trail each, 100 yards long, at the very tippy top of their mountains.
Photo by SFB579 :)
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