Global warming threatens U.S. ski industry, but Oregon unscathed

Jan 4, 2013 by

Oregon

on December 27, 2012 at 3:03 PM, updated December 27, 2012 at 4:28 PM

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 Global warming? What global warming? Oregon ski areas such as Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort have yet to experience the low snowpack conditions forecast in a Natural Resources Defense Council report. Thomas Boyd / The Oregonian

With snowpack accumulating steadily this week on Oregon peaks, it’s hard to imagine less-than-adequate conditions for skiing and snowboarding.

“Right now we’ve received over half our annual snowfall and it’s not even the first of January,” said Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort spokesman Andy Goggins.

But a recent report suggests the nation’s ski resorts would be wise to keep an eye on the sky, global warning trends and their supply of snowmakers.

The nation’s $12.2 billion winter tourism industry spread out across 38 states has experienced an estimated $1 billion loss and up to 27,000 fewer jobs over the last decade due to diminished snow fall patterns and the resulting changes in the outdoor habits of Americans, according to the study issued earlier this month by the nonprofit groups Protect Our Winters (POW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Global warming may not hit West Coast ski areas as hard as the Upper Midwest and the Northeast because they are at higher elevations, says one of authors of a study about the impact of warming on the snowsports industry. Here, skiers and snow boarders head for the slopes.
Thomas Boyd / The Oregonian

But the current trend appears to be most pressing in the Upper Midwest and Northeastern parts of the United States, according to a map accompanying the study. The temperature trending map shows no area in Oregon that has had more than a 1 degree Fahrenheit increase for winter, 1970 to 2011.

But some parts of the Upper Midwest — Minnesota and Michigan — show winter temperatures have warmed up 2.5 degrees in that period.

Without intervention, the study projects winter temperatures to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees by the end of the century, with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall and shorter snow season.

While the Northwest and California appear to be less affected by a warming trend, the study includes a warning. It contends that under current trends, snow depths could decline in the region.

For now, Mount Hood Meadows Ski Resort is unaffected and “we don’t believe this change is imminent,” said spokesman Dave Tragethon.

But the resort and the overall industry has concerns, he said.

“We consider the ski industry to be the canary in the coal mine,” Tragethon said. “This is one of those industries that could be most dramatically and immediately affected by gradual change in climate.”

Oregon’s ski industry accounted for 6,772 jobs and nearly $195 million in pay in the 2010-11 season, according to an ECONorthwest report issued in July. Total economic impact for the 2010-11 season was about $481.6 million.

While the “Oregon Skier Profile and Economic Impact Analysis,” addressed several areas including sustainability, it did not look at the potential impact of global warming.

The ski industry of the Northwest, and the West in general, may be helped by resorts that are at higher elevations than those in the Upper Midwest and Northeast, said Elizabeth Burakowski, one of the NRDC study authors.

In addition to scientific data, it’s important to present lawmakers with economic data — focusing on potential job losses, said Burakowski, a New Hampshire-based skier and climate researcher.

Some in Congress acknowledge the problem but say “it’s too expensive to act on it,” Burakowski said. “We’re arguing it’s too expensive to not act on it.”

In response to the NRDC study, the National Ski Areas Association issued recommendations skiers could adopt to help, including:

  • Driving the least-polluting, most efficient vehicle possible.
  • Reducing needless automobile idling.
  • Removing roof-mounted sporting equipment carriers from vehicles and replacing studded snow tires with regular tires at the end of the season to improve overall gas mileage.
  • Carpooling or taking public transit or shuttles in order to reduce emissions.
  • The industry adopted its climate change policy in 2002, and has since supported several pieces of climate advocacy legislation or initiatives.

The policy also supports winter recreation areas reducing consumption on their own and educating consumers. Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort’s electricity, for example, is from wind power, purchased through a renewables program. The resort has taken other sustainability steps.

“Ski areas have not been on the sidelines when it comes to climate change,” Michael Berry, the national ski association’s president, said in a news release issued the day the NRDC unveiled its report.

– Allan Brettman; twitter.com/abrettman

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