Impact of warmer winters


What will happen to the snowsports economy if this slope isn't covered in snow?

When pro snowboarders Jeremy Jones and Gretchen Bleiler and pro skier Chris Davenport joined climate-change advocates Chris Steinkamp and Auden Schendler last fall on a trip to Washington, they had grand plans of inspiring Capitol Hill lawmakers with stories of a shrinking winter. They didn't expect to leave that trip thinking about money. But that's exactly what happened.

No matter how well they communicated the dire implications of global warming as it relates to snow and mountain communities, the senators and congressmen countered with a different message. "We had all these amazing anecdotal stories, and the senators said, 'We have no doubt it's real, but we need to know how many jobs we're going to lose,'" recalled Steinkamp, executive director of Protect Our Winters (POW). "We left there saying, 'We've got to put a price tag on this, because the only way they're going to move is if there's some sort of monetary hit. If we can show them what the revenue effect of a bad winter is, then obviously it'll perk them up and get them moving.' That's the way Washington works."

On Thursday, POW and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released the findings of a significant new study the two organizations commissioned in the wake of last year's visit to Washington. Designed to show lawmakers exactly what is at stake monetarily when it comes to climate change, the report breaks down the economic impact of shortened winters, smaller snowpacks and rising temperatures.

For starters, the report -- which was completed by a pair of researchers at the University of New Hampshire, Elizabeth Burakowski and Matthew Magnusson -- explains that the U.S. ski, snowboard and snowmobile industries combine to create a $12.2 billion wintersports behemoth that supports 211,900 jobs across 38 states. In essence, warmer weather (average temps in the U.S. have increased 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit between December and February since 1970) leads to lower snowfall, which leads to fewer skier visits and snowmobile trips, which leads to fewer jobs and a weaker economy.

Statistically speaking, the downhill ski resort industry lost $1.07 billion over the past 11 years due to lower snowfall and warming trends, according to this study. If lawmakers move forward under a high-emissions scenario (which basically means furthering the current policies), only four out of 14 major resorts in the northeastern U.S. would remain profitable by 2100. Likewise, under the same scenario, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges would decrease by as much as 70 percent.

This, essentially, is the purpose of the study: to prove why low-emissions policies like the Clean Air Act are so important to support in Washington. "A lot of the senators and congressmen said clean tech and renewable energy are job killers," Steinkamp said. "And we were like, well, if you continue on this path, it's more of a job killer. They're just so afraid of putting people in the coal industry or the oil and gas industry out of business, but think about all the people that are going to lose their jobs in mountain towns."

Steinkamp said the plan is to hand-deliver the new report next spring to the same lawmakers they met with last year. "Snow is currency in the snowsports world," he said, "and we can make people realize that when it doesn't snow, it's not just a lack of snow, it's a lack of jobs, a lack of income for small businesses and resorts. It's serious business."

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