Bolton Valley Resort in VT windmill

Bolton Valley Resort in VT windmill

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 and perhaps earlier in Altai, China).

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.

In early February, Porter Fox wrote a piece for the New York Times incorporating studies about the decline of the number of annual ski days and the ski industry’s light support of advocacy efforts. He outlines a list of 13 national legislators from CA, OR, UT and WA that have voted against proposed environmental climate legislation and half of them voted against all of those bills.

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 $887 million in annual consumer spending. Winters with snow or lack of it at the right times across the country can vastly impact statistics.

Jeremy Jones, founder of the POW organization attended and was 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 Olympic Gold Medal Champion Cross Country Ski Sprinter Kikkan Randall, was handed to President Obama at the ceremony. The letter referencee the data in the report and asked the President to take action on climate, on behalf of all of us who love and work in snow sports. It was a powerful statement from the snow sports community, delivered by our sports icons, but alas things in the White House have changed.

Snowmaking at Rikert Nordic Center in VT along a cross country ski trail

Snowmaking at Rikert Nordic Center in VT along a cross country ski trail

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. Currently, there are fewer than 40 commercial cross country ski resorts in North America that 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.

Solar panels at Craftsbury Outdoor Center in VT

Solar panels at Craftsbury Outdoor Center in VT

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.

NSAA has joined with the Outdoor Industries Association, Snowsports Industries Association and other regional ski area groups to form the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership. This new group is focused on bipartisan solutions advocacy and helping organization members to reduce their carbon emissions. OIA states that there are 150 million Americans that participate in outdoor activities and the outdoor business contributes about $887 billion to the economy.

The OBCP alliance wants to mobilize their member companies to increase action on climate change by supporting the passage of bipartisan climate change legislation in Congress and adoption of market-based policies to reduce Green House gases at the state and utility level. OIA already has tool sets and programs to help member companies reduce their respective environmental impacts associated with the products that they sell.