We're melting! Climate change and the snow sports industry

The outdoor recreation industry is an overlooked economic giant. Surprisingly, it significantly outranks pharmaceuticals, gasoline and other fuels, motor vehicles and parts, and household utilities in annual consumer spending in the U.S.

This vital $730 billion industry is being severely affected by climate change. The effects of climate change are dramatically changing our natural landscapes and impinging on our ability to enjoy the outdoors in the ways we have in the past. Droughts, extreme weather, and unstable ecosystems threaten water sports, fishing and hunting, and camping, but no other sector within the outdoor recreation industry is declining like the snow-based recreation industry.

An industry that contributes an estimated $67 billion annually to our nation’s economy is being damaged; once rideable terrain is being closed due to lack of snow, ski resort businesses are struggling, and the length and vitality of snow seasons are being significantly reduced.

The livelihoods of those tied to snow recreation industries, the snow sport retail industry, and the economic vitality of mountain regions are all at risk. If we don’t do something now about climate change, snow sports may be something we can’t share with our children.

“Healthy public lands that support the nation’s $730 billion outdoor recreation economy are imperiled by a warming climate.  The outdoor recreation industry and those who pursue outdoor activities are among the first to experience the impacts of climate change on our public lands. We believe our industry is in a unique position and has a responsibility to offer leadership on this important issue."

“The outdoor recreation industry and those who pursue outdoor activities are among the first to experience the impacts of climate change on our public lands. We believe our industry is in a unique position and has a responsibility to offer leadership on this important issue." - Frank Hugelmeyer, President, Outdoor Industry Association

In Washington and in the rest of the Northwest, outdoor recreation businesses have already begun to feel the acute impact of climate change. Ski areas at moderate elevation have experienced statistically high winter temperatures categorized as “warm winters,” declines in annual snowpack, length of ski seasons, and decreases in annual visitors.  

Unfortunately, these record-setting numbers during warm winters aren’t going anywhere. Snow model simulations are showing that average ski conditions could change dramatically by 2025. This could mean drastic decreases in the revenues of ski areas by shortening the length of the ski season and reducing patronage due to undesirable ski conditions.

The economic impact of climate change doesn’t stop at declined revenues for ski areas. The economies of many mountain towns and resorts that are reliant on the tourism revenue brought in from the snow based recreation industry are all at risk. For many people in the industry, snow based recreation is not only their livelihood, but also their way of life. Furthermore, decreases in annual visitors to ski areas means a huge loss of revenue for businesses in manufacturing, retail, and service in the snow based sport industry due to decreased demand for such products and services.

What can we do?

Prominent companies in the industry that are being directly impacted by climate change are speaking out as leaders on the issue. Seattle-based equipment manufacturer K2 Sports, iconic local brands Outdoor Research and REI, and local ski resorts such as Anthony Lakes, Cooper Spur Mountain Resort, Mt. Ashland Ski Area, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, and Timberline Lodge in Oregon, and Crystal Mountain, Mission Ridge, Stevens Pass, Summit-at-Snoqualmie, and White Pass in Washington have joined over 1000 other businesses in signing the Climate Declaration to support policies to reduce emissions and grow the clean energy economy.

Join them by signing on to the Oregon or Washington Business Climate Declaration today!

Other institutions such as Protect Our Winters actively engage the global snow sports community to lead the fight against climate change.

The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy is Washington State’s coalition of individuals, organizations, and businesses dedicated to reducing global warming pollution and strengthening our economy. Join the Alliance by taking the I Believe in Washington pledge to protect our outdoor recreation industry and preserve our ability to ski, snowboard, and enjoy nature’s wonders here in the Northwest.

Renew Oregon is Oregon’s growing coalition of businesses and workers, healthcare professionals and parents, farmers and ranchers, faith and community organizations, and individuals coming together to move away from dirty, polluting energy to a clean energy economy. Renew Oregon is working to create good-paying jobs for all Oregonians, protect air and water from pollution, and help families stay healthy. Join the Renew Oregon coalition by endorsing the campaign (for businesses) or taking the pledge (for individuals).

Author Bio

Nick Richardson

former Intern, Business Partnerships Program , Climate Solutions

Nick Richardson spent summer 2015 working an intern working in the Business Partnerships Program at Climate Solutions.  A Seattle native, Nick recently transferred from the University of Washington to the University of Colorado at Boulder to study both business and renewable energy. He is earning a business degree in International Business and Entrepreneurship and studies renewable energy in his minor.  Specifically passionate about solar energy, he recently worked on a project to expand solar facilities on campus at CU Boulder and also competed in the 2015 Clean Energy Competition creating a business model for off-site solar farms. In addition to renewable energy, he is also interested in global warming and corporate sustainability.

Nick is very passionate about traveling and has lived abroad in four different countries. He lived in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic for six months learning Spanish and volunteering in the rainforest, in Tanzania for half a year where he taught English and Soccer in schools, and in Andalucía, Spain where he studied abroad and worked as a travel photographer.  

Nick will graduate from the University of Colorado with a BBA in May 2016. 

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