Report documents how warming climate could decimate Colorado’s ski towns | VailDaily.com

Report documents how warming climate could decimate Colorado’s ski towns

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Winter sports tourism pumps about $11 billion in direct spending into the U.S. economy each year but is at risk of being decimated by climate change, according to the advocacy group Protect Our Winters.

The organization released a report Friday, Feb. 23, that takes an extensive look at the economic contribution of skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling and how it is affected by low snow years.

"This is the documentation of both the very real impacts of climate change and the science of what's happening to winters in the U.S.," said Auden Schendler, senior vice president of community sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co. and a member of POW's board of directors, on Friday.

He wrote an introduction to the report that calls it a work of hard science and economics with a simple message: "Winter is warming, snow is declining and that trend hits our communities in the wallet."

“Skiers and snowboarders are seeing climate change happen right before our eyes in the mountains as winter seasons shorten and snow lines rise. 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.”Jeremy JonesFounder, Protect Our Winters

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In an interview Friday, Schendler said the report's message is not only that winter sports are imperiled, but the entire mountain way of life is in decline.

"I think you have to look at this as a call to arms for the winter sports economy," he said.

The study, "The Economic Contributions of Winter Sports in a Changing Climate," establishes winter sports' value to the economy, documents how winters are changing and proposes a course of action.

U.S. ski areas racked up an average of 55.4 million customer visits annually between 2001 and 2016. In the five lowest snow years over that 15-year period, national skier visits plummeted 10 percent.

"Warmer temperatures and reduced snowfall will continue to reduce the length of the ski season, which will likely continue to reduce visits," the study said. "Snowmaking systems can help reduce the erosion of skiable days, but only so much."

Fewer visitors means lost jobs and reduced revenue in towns such as Aspen and Snowmass Village.

"We found that the increased skier participation levels in high snow years meant an extra $692.9 million in value added and 11,800 extra jobs compared to the 2001 to 2016 average," the study said. "In low snow years, reduced participation decreased value added by over $1 billion and cost 17,400 jobs compared to an average season."

Colorado led the nation in economic contribution from skiing and snowmobiling. The study estimated ski resort operations generated more than 43,000 jobs and $2.56 billion in total economic value added in 2016. Skiing also is the catalyst that fuels indirect economic benefits to the lodging and restaurant industries.

While heavy in statistics, the report, which can be found online at POW's website, enlivens the data with numerous case studies that show how mountain residents' lives are being affected or could be affected by changing winter.

Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula talked about how winter is being compressed with quality ski time lost at the beginning and end from warm temperatures — a situation to which Aspenites can relate.

"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, in a prepared statement. "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."

Despite some grim outlooks, Schendler feels the report is "pretty inspirational." In the report's conclusion, he contends skiers and snowboarders are "doers and fixers; they will always rise to the occasion. Depending on season, they will thrive or enthusiastically make do."

He said the snow sports world needs to change how it approaches the problem of climate change tactics, avoiding the "mostly ineffective actions of the past" and finding different approaches. The report lays out seven steps people can take, including getting educated, speaking up and lobbying policymakers.

"To this point it's been 'What can we do in our own house?'" Schendler said. "Now it's not only cut your carbon footprint, it's be a political actor."

for a deeper dive

Advocacy group Protect Our Winters commissioned a 69-page study that looks at the economics of skiing and snowmobiling and the science behind the changing climate that is affecting them. The full report can be found at protectourwinters.org/2018-economic-report.