The recent news about the impacts of climate change on the snow sports industry is frankly not news to those in the cross country ski world. While a small segment of the $12.2 billion snow sports business, the cross country ski world has been vulnerable to the vagaries of Mother Nature since its inception (commercial cross country ski areas in the US began in the late sixties, but cross country skiing dates back to drawings on cave walls in 4,000 BC).
The report called Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States, was commissioned by Protect Our Winters (POW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) with scientists at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The study results tie specific climate data to hard numbers relating to projected business losses for the snow sports industry and the U.S. economy as a whole.
Professional skiers and snowboarders went with POW to Washington last year to lobby Congress to act on legislation to curb climate change and they painted a "clear picture" of how warmer weather is impacting winter sports. Senators from both sides thanked POW and the athletes for their view but they said they needed to know about the economic impact in their states before they could think about climate legislation. So POW joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council to place a value on winter and the data shows that winter tourism is a $12.2 billion industry in 38 states. For the 2009-10 winter season New York state alone had a winter tourism industry that supported more than 14,000 jobs and generated $846 million.
Jeremy Jones, founder of the POW organization is scheduled to attend and be recognized as a "Champion of Change" at a White House ceremony on April 11, 2013. A letter signed by 75 of the top snow sports athletes including World Champion Cross Country Ski Sprinter Kikkan Randall, will be handed to President Obama at the ceremony. The letter references the data in the report and asks the President to take action on climate, on behalf of all of us who love and work in snow sports. It'll be a powerful statement from the snow sports community, delivered by our sports icons.
The report based on University of New Hampshire research claimed that the alpine ski industry draws $1 billion less revenue during a poor snow season than it does during a good one and such a business downturn translates to a loss of between 13,000 to 27,000 jobs. Of course, the alpine ski business deploys machine-made snow, so only cold temperatures are needed to cover the slopes with snow. But the rise in temperatures can impact snowmaking opportunities thus cutting the depth of the snow and the length of the ski season. With cross country ski areas the lack of snow (particularly if it rains when it's not cold enough) can kill prime segments of the ski season such as the holiday period or key weekends. Fewer than 40 commercial cross country ski resorts in North America use snowmaking machines to cover trails; see article at Snowmaking at XC Ski Resorts Becomes Imperative.
“The industry hasn’t done a good job on educating leaders on the raw science and hasn’t made enough of a public statement on climate,” Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at the Aspen Skiing Company resort area in Colorado told the New York Times. “It needs to ramp that up radically in the same way that the insurance industry has recognized climate change as an existential threat.”
NSAA, the ski area association in the USA stated that it adopted its Climate Change policy in 2002 that includes a three- pronged strategy in fighting climate change: reduce, educate, and advocate. Moreover, ski areas have been weighing in on energy and climate legislation in Washington for more than a decade.
NSAA also launched a “Climate Challenge” program two years ago, through which participating resorts inventory their green house gas emissions, set targets for reduction, reduce their carbon footprint and take other measures. At this point, while the alpine ski industry can "weather" the challenge with snowmaking, the cross country ski industry and snowmobile industry are more susceptible to climate change, and they need some action to begin turning things around.