No Snow? Climate Change Could Shut Down US Ski Areas

Climate change may soon cause many of our nation's ski centers—particularly those at lower elevations and latitudes—to vanish, according to an article in The New York Times.

Winter-sports enthusiasts have already started to see the effects. After logging the fourth-warmest winter since 1896 last year, half of the nation's ski areas were forced to open late and almost half closed early.

The forecast is particularly bleak for the Northeast. Some studies predict half of the 103 ski resorts in the region will not be able to maintain a 100-day season by 2039, according to research by Daniel Scott, director of the Interdisciplinary Center on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. His study will be published next year.

With predicted snowfall, no ski areas in Connecticut or Massachusetts would be economically viable, while only nine of New York's 36 ski spots would have an adequate supply of snow. In New Hampshire, only seven of the state's 18 resorts would survive, and Maine would fare slightly better with eight of its 14 ski areas able to stay open.

Temperature increases up to seven degrees in the Rocky Mountains would also wreak havoc on ski resorts. Park City would lose its entire snowpack and Aspen would be left with a small reserve of snow on the top quarter of its mountain.

Even this year, several ski resorts have had to push back their opening dates.

According to a report released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Protect our Winters, global warming could devastate the snow-dependent winter sports industry.

It's a trend that's already started. From 2000-2010, the $10.7 billion ski and snowboarding industry lost $1.07 billion in revenue due to smaller snow falls. The shift could threaten the jobs of  the 187,000 people directly or indirectly employed in this sector.

Greg Ralph, the marketing director at Monarch Mountain, told the Times that 250 of Monarch's employees are "on hold" as the resort has continued to push back its opening date for lack of snow.

The situation is made even more desperate by the decreasing ability for ski areas to make their own snow.

In recent years, improvement in snow-making technology—such as energy-efficient tower guns that used nearby water supplies—helped keep runs open. This practice has become common in the United States, where in the 2009-2010 season, 88 percent of resorts in the National Ski Areas Association made their own snow.

However, warmer temperatures have not only led to less snow, but also to less water. The critical component for making snow is literally drying up.

In the Rockies, for instance, a lack of precipitation in the winter and summer depleted the reservoirs and streams.

So while technology has allowed ski areas to keep up with climate change so far, this soon may not be the case.

"With nighttime minimum temperatures warming at a faster rate than daytime maximum temperatures," the Natural Resources Defense Council report said, "it is uncertain as to what extent snow-making will last as an adaptation strategy."

Via The New York Times.