Surprising truth about ski resorts' response to global climate change

Scientists ski to few remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park.

USGS/Glacier NPS

Ski resorts spend a lot of effort and money each season getting ready for the inevitable. The skiing industry has been seeing and feeling the effects of global climate change for some time, forcing resorts to plan for the unknown every winter.

Global climate change endangers ski industry

Every year ski resorts witnesses climate change, so it makes sense that they’ve come to accept the science. Now the hand-wringing is over the economics:

  • Global climate change has been responsible for a 10% reduction in snow fall in the last 30 years.

  • In the next 25 years, the East Coast ski season will be a full two weeks shorter and there will be less than a 75% chance of ski resorts being open for Christmas.

  • By 2050, the average ski season is expected to be 37-57% shorter, though snowmaking technology may reduce these losses by 7-32%.

  • New Mexico’s economy alone is expected to lose $50 million by 2020 as the number of skiing days declines.

  • The national winter tourism industry has lost about $1 billion in the past decade, and about 27,000 jobs have been eliminated.

The price of manmade snow

To compensate for less snow, ski resorts have turned to artificial snow, which already accounts for up to 80% of their snow. Ski resorts try to calculate how much snow to make when temperatures are at their lowest to save money. One acre of one foot deep snow can cost up to $2,000. But as snowmaking costs increase, some ski resorts have been forced out of business

Artificial snow also uses a lot of water - 5,000 to 10,000 gallons a minute! This is why Flagstaff, Arizona has agreed to sell its reclaimed wastewater to The Snowbowl Ski Resort to produce fake snow, inciting concern from locals and environmentalists.

Ironically, water pumps are often run by diesel engines, which just release more carbon pollution, further contributing to global climate change.

Change of weather?

Understandably, some in the skiing industry are concerned that their livelihoods are becoming endangered by these changes. Pro-snowboarder Jeremy Jones started Protect Our Winters to bring the global snow sports community to action.

Unfortunately, while we may have the exquisite and sometimes dangerous ability to adapt to global climate change, the wildlife that live in the alpine environments that we love don't. That’s why The Wilderness Society advocates for increased conservation funding, which helps agencies and organizations work on restoration and mitigation.

We rely on stunning snowy landscapes for recreation in winter - and they rely on us for continued preservation. You can help The WIlderness Society work to protect these lands by making a donation.