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Living Green

Winter tourism feeling the heat of climate change

As we head into the coldest season of the year, rising temperatures are starting to have an impact on what is usually the peak season of the winter sports industry.

Winter tourism is largely dependent on predictable and heavy snowfall, but climate change is most likely to make winters warmer, snowfall fewer and snow seasons shorter, resulting in “economic devastation,” according to a new study co-authored by environmental group Protect Our Winters and the United States’ Natural Resources Defense Council.

The study assessed how historical changes in the winter season have already affected the winter tourism industry, highlighting the most recent decade’s skiing statistics and a review of historical winter climate observations.

Without intervention, global winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. This will bring marked decreases in snow cover area, snowfall and a shorter snow season. Similarly, snow depths could drop off in the west by 25 to 100 percent while the length of snow season in the northeast will be cut in half.

America’s winter landscape

In the U.S., the estimated $12.2 billion ski and snowmobile winter sports industry has already felt the direct impact of reduced winter snowpack and rising average winter temperatures.

“In an American winter landscape where more than three-quarters of states benefit economically from winter sports and where our study finds that nationwide there are 211,900 jobs either directly or indirectly supported by the ski and snowmobile industry, changing snowfall patterns will have a significant economic effect,” noted P.O.W. and N.R.D.C.

It was found that winter temperatures in the U.S. have already warmed 0.10 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1895, and the rate of warming has more than tripled to 0.55 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1970. The strongest winter warming trends are experienced in the northern half of the U.S., where the snow plays a significant role in their winter season.

“All of this translates into less snow and fewer people on the slopes, which results in massive economic hardship for resorts, states, local communities, businesses and their employees,” warned the report, suggesting urgent government-led efforts to support policies that protect the climate, and in turn, the slopes.

Climate change’s economic impacts

Winter sports in the U.S. account for $67 billion annually in the national economy and support more than 600,000 jobs. In addition, the U.S alone represents about 21 million of the global snow sports community.

P.O.W. and N.R.D.C. said this new study seeks to help policymakers understand the economic impacts of climate change both to the ski and snowmobile industry.

“So when we look at the cost of inaction, it’s serious business...Clearly, it’s time for us all to step up and take responsibility to save a season that fuels our passions but is also the foundation for our livelihoods, our jobs and the economic vitality of our mountain regions,” stressed P.O.W. – C. Dominguez

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