A new report conducted for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Protect Our Winters (POW) detailing the devastating economic effects that climate change could have on the U.S. winter tourism industry was released today, revealing a number of troubling consequences bred by warmer winters.
The analysis, which covers all states involved in the U.S. ski and snowmobile winter tourism industry, estimates the winter tourism industry to be worth $12.2 billion, a significant contribution to the U.S. economy that could be dealt a huge blow should already present changes in winter season snowfall persist.
With the study, NRDC and POW are aiming to grab the attention of policy makers and help them to understand the winter tourism industry's current economic scale and its potential future demise if climate change remains a relatively back-burner issue in the American political sphere. Though the study focuses primarily on future potential consequences of warmer winters, it also touches on the effects the industry is already feeling from reduced snowpack and rising winter temperatures over the last decade. According to the report, the 2011-2012 winter season saw 50 percent of ski resorts opening late and 48 percent closing early, with every region experiencing a decrease in the days of operation.
The NRDC and POW report also discusses the effects that climate change and a reduced winter season could have on industries related to winter sports, including lodging, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and entertainment.
Coinciding with the release of the report, some of the crew from NRDC and POW hosted a telephone-based news conference earlier today, allowing participants to call in with their questions regarding the report. The panel of climate and industry experts included executive director of Protect Our Winters, Chris Steinkamp; vice president of sustainability at Aspen Ski Company, Auden Schendler; researcher at University of New Hampshire and report author, Elizabeth Burakowski; and assistant director of the NRDC's Climate and Clean Air Program, Antonia Herzog. During the news event, the panel discussed the specific consequences that climate change could have on the winter tourism industry in Colorado, California, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
We caught up with Auden Schendler before the announcement to learn more:
How do you plan to use the results of this study?
This is another in a series of increasingly obvious data points that we have to use to mobilize the industry on climate change. The point is that we have a fiduciary duty to address this problem: for our own well being, and for the survival of the sport and the winter sports economy.
What goals do you hope to achieve with it?
I'd like the see CEOs and trade groups start to get it and realize we need to push hard for both recognition of the problem and solutions that get at the scale of the problem. I want to see CEOS, trade group heads in DC, making this the number-one issue for the industry.
What were the most surprising results of the study?
We all know that when it doesn't snow, there's some kind of monetary impact. What's surprising is what that number looks like, and what we stand to lose. But I want to invert that concern: we have such an opportunity here, to unite on a cause, and to do something incredibly meaningful–solving climate–while protecting our sport and our lifestyles.
Those interested in listening to an audio recap of the news event can visit http://www.nrdc.org/ to give it a listen. The audio will be available as of 5 p.m. EST.
While the NRDC and POW report provides a detailed, 33 page look into the consequences of warmer winters on the winter tourism industry, we'll leave you with a few impressive numbers that most effectively convey just how big of an impact the industry has on the economy, and further, just how crucial it is for the snow to never stop falling.
In the 2009-2010 winter season alone:
More than 23 million people participated in winter sporting activities.
Resort operations contributed the greatest amount of employment and value added to the economy, with 75,900 employed and $2.9 billion in added economic value.
With 59.8 million skier and snowboarder visits and an estimated 14.5 million snowmobile trips in 2009-10, winter sport activities supported 211,900 jobs earning a total of $7.0 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits. In turn, this economic activity resulted in $1.4 billion in state and local taxes and $1.7 billion in federal taxes.
The downhill ski resort industry is estimated to have lost $1.07 billion in aggregated revenue between low and high snow fall years over the last decade (November 1999 – April 2010).