Climate Change Impacting U.S. Winter Sports Tourism Industry

Climate change is impacting both the duration of winter and the accumulation and quality of snow, posing a significant risk to winter sports, American jobs and the economy.

The Economic Contributions of Winter Sports in a Changing Climate, a new report from Protect Our Winters, shows the impact of climate change on the $20.3 billion snow sports industry, what the industry is doing to adapt, and why urgent action is needed.

The report finds that low-snow seasons result in 5.5 million fewer visitors to ski towns than average and cost the economy $1 billion in reduced participation costs. As 20 million people participate in winter sports annually, the report shows how climate change is driving significant shifts in this crucial industry.

The report identifies a high relationship between skier visits and snow cover across the United States, finding that low-snow years can cost over 17,000 jobs in resort towns and surrounding areas compared to average years.

In contrast, the report finds that higher than average snow years encouraged Americans to spend time outside in the winter--with significant economic benefits.  Between 2001 and 2016, ski resort towns saw 3.8 million more visitors than average during the five highest snow years, and increased snow sports participation during high snow years added an additional  $692.9 million in economic value and 11,800 jobs.

“Winter sports enthusiasts can see that our winters are changing and understand that this will have an effect on the industry--this report just puts dollar values to that loss,” said report author Dr. Rebecca Hill of Colorado State University. “We hope that providing economic values to these losses will help to motivate action before it is too late.”

The report finds that snowboarders, skiers and snowmobilers added an estimated $20.3 billion in economic value to the U.S. economy, through spending at ski resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and gas stations.

Many scientific studies show that climate change is driving a significant shift in winter temperatures and precipitation. Snow and ice cover have decreased in most areas of the US, while warming has also caused more precipitation falling as rain than snow. Snow cover is showing up later in the cold season in the western United States and leaving sooner as temperatures warm in the East. While resorts can now make snow faster, with less energy consumption, natural snow is still the most important component driving winter sports participation in the US.

“Skiers and snowboarders are seeing climate change happen right before our eyes in the mountains as winter seasons shorten and snow lines rise,” said Jeremy Jones, professional snowboarder and founder of Protect Our Winters. “While scientific data reinforces what we are witnessing in the mountains, this study confirms what we are experiencing in our towns, where we watch low snow years shut down businesses, as friends and neighbors lose their jobs. Now is the time for athletes, snow lovers and folks who care about American jobs to come together to demand that our politicians take climate action on a national and global level.”

The new report serves as an update to Protect Our Winters’ 2012 analysis with the National Resources Defense Council, furthering our understanding of how warming temperatures have impacted the industry since 2001, what the economic value of the industry is today (2015-2016), what changes we can expect in the future under high and low emissions scenarios, what the winter sports industry is doing to address the challenge, and what the outdoor sports community can do to engage in advocacy and solutions.

“Our hope is that this report will serve as a call to action to the winter sports community and a wake-up call  for politicians who say they care about jobs and the economy, but are stalling on climate” said Mario Molina, Executive Director of Protect Our Winters.

Download the full report:

Protect Our Winters is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that engages and mobilizes the outdoor sports community to lead the fight against climate change through educational initiatives and political advocacy.. Founded by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones in 2007, Protect Our Winters works with businesses, athletes and the community to harness the collective power of the outdoor sports industry to take meaningful action against climate change.

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