Warming won’t roast real estate | VailDaily.com

Warming won’t roast real estate

Bob Berwyn
Summit County Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Daily file photoDaily file photo

COLORADO ” Ski towns in Colorado’s high country ” including Eagle County ” may have some short-term immunity from predicted global-warming impacts that could drive down resort real-estate values by more than 50 percent in some parts of the country.

A recent study by the San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve concluded that resorts in the Pacific Coast region could see a home values decline by 56 percent if temperatures climb by 2 degrees Celsius.

That change is well within the scale of current climate predictions. Most models show shorter seasons and less reliable snow cover for ski areas in California and the Pacific Northwest as well as New England and the Southeast.

The relatively high elevation of Colorado’s ski areas may delay those effects, but the same results ” less snow, shorter seasons ” are expected in the long-term. Despite the high elevation, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey already have documented dramatic changes in the timing of spring snowmelt in Colorado.

Peak runoff is coming two weeks earlier than just a few decades, ago, suggesting that warmer temperatures are coming earlier even to the highest reaches of the state.

Botanical research at the high-elevation Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte shows that many alpine wildflowers are blooming sooner in the year, as the snow cover disappears earlier.

The current pine-beetle epidemic, with all its economic ramifications, also has been attributed in part to a pattern of warmer temperatures. Previous beetle infestations in Colorado were slowed by long-lasting cold snaps that killed the larvae.

Trying to project economic impacts of climate change, researchers combined two broad sets of home-price data across the West with snowfall statistics. They found “precise and consistent” data showing that prices drop after multiple low-snow seasons.

Averaging the statistical model across the West, the implied reduction in home values in the region is 24 percent.

It’s conceivable that Colorado resorts could even benefit, at least for the next 10 to 20 years, from their relatively high elevation and cold climate.

“The existing demand for skiing and nearby real estate will shift away from warmer areas and toward colder areas as the worldwide climate warms,” the report concluded.

“Colorado came out pretty well. The variability of snow hasn’t mattered that much,” said Rob Valletta, a Fed economist who co-authored the report along with researchers from the Public Policy Institute of California and the University of Wisconsin.

Still, Summit County Realtor Art Girten, who sits on the Summit Association of Realtors board, Girten said that doing nothing is not the best option. He praised the Aspen Skiing Co. and the wider Aspen community for the steps it has taken to fight greenhouse-gas emissions. The climate-change issue does need to be addressed, he said.

“If we don’t watch it, we’ll end up with a bunch of chairlifts and no snow to ride on,” he said.

Girten said lower-elevation resorts such as Steamboat or those in New Mexico could feel the pinch much sooner.

Ski-industry analyst Ford Frick echoed Girten’s thoughts.

“If you’re Whistler or New England, you’ve already got to be taking a deep breath,” Frick said. “It does come up. It is a consideration in the acquisition of second homes … Even here in Colorado, we’re already seeing a shortening of the season, especially in spring.”

People who are considering buying a resort home based on their desire to be near a ski area are probably paying attention to the issue, Frick said, but it’s not clear yet if they’re changing their decisions based on the available information.

“Are we insulated? Nobody is bulletproof,” said Frisco real-estate agent Butch Elitch. “We have the good fortune of being at 9,000-feet plus. The weather is cyclical. People get used to things going really well, just like farmers who plant crops, say their prayers and hope for a good year.”

Silverthorne real-estate agent Ken Deshaies suggested that Summit County could become a haven in a warming world, enabling people to escape the heat and keep cool in the high country.

“I think we’ll be looking at a whole new paradigm,” Deshaies said, explaining that the shift to a four-season resort economy, with less reliance on skiing, is already well under way.

Federal Reserve report: http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/letter/2008/el2008-26.html

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