Climate Change Impacts on the Snow Sport Industry

As North America heads into the winter season, snow sport enthusiasts are getting ready to hit the slopes. But warm temperatures and a lack of snow are casting a shadow over what is traditionally a vibrant and busy time of the year for the snow sport community. In New York State, snow-based recreation reportedly adds around $846 million to the state’s economy, providing hundreds of jobs at its fifty or so ski areas – the most of any state, with many being small family-run snow sport venues. Resorts have opened and are making use of snow-guns to get the snow skiing season going, but with last year experiencing the third-lowest snowfall since satellite surveillance records starting being compiled in 1966, and average temperatures measuring fourth-highest since 1896, there is a growing concern about the impact climate change is having on the snow sport industry.

A recent report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Protect our Winters (POW), and researchers from the University of New Hampshire, outlined the negative impact that climate change is having on the finances of the snow sport industry. Executive director of POW, Chris Steinkamp, was reported as saying that in the 2011/2012 season businesses were closing and resorts trimmed staff, all resulting in job losses. University of New Hampshire researcher Elizabeth Burakowski noted that in addition to conducting its survey, which covered 38 states that feature winter sports, the group made the case of “snow is currency” to Congress in Washington, DC. Steinkamp pointed out that they felt that many congressmen needed to hear first-hand the stories behind the effects of climate change.

Created in 2007 by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones, POW has a number of corporate sponsors that support its stated mission – to engage and mobilize the winter sports community in the fight against climate change. Jones was motivated by his first-hand experience of decreasing snow levels and fewer places being available for him to enjoy his favorite winter activity. While based in the United States, the organization represents the global snow sport community in raising awareness about the impact of climate change.

Some of POW’s accomplishments include the launch of the Hot Planet/Cool Athletes educational program in which pro athletes speak to high school students about climate change; the compilation of a comprehensive report (Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the US) detailing the economic impact of lower snowfall in winter sport states; and the launching of the POW7 Pledge listing seven things individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint and combat climate change. To date more than 5,000 individuals have made the POW7 Pledge – and you can too, by visiting the Protect Our Winters Website.