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Climate change and the ski business

Ski areas will continue, but seasons will be much shorter

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Danger in Degrees, part 2

Earlier this year Allen Best, the Colorado writer who compiles the Mountain News, wrote a seven-part series for the Vail Daily on climate change and the mountains. This is the second of two parts reprinted in Pique.

Business at U.S. Thanksgiving was always questionable in the early days of ski areas. That was before snowmaking.

Now, if not necessarily powder, there’s usually snow for sliding during Thanksgiving, giving ski area operators and the communities that depend upon skiing at least a four-month season.

But, if predicted consequences for global warming are accurate, the bookends for skiing will move in, making the season shorter. Snowmaking will become more necessary and also more expensive. And there will be fewer powder days and more rain days, even in the Rocky Mountains.

Summers will admittedly be longer. However, despite decades of trying, very few ski areas have achieved the same economic punch during summer as skiing delivers during winter. Whistler, for example, attracts about 1 million visitors each winter and another 1 million in the summer. However, winter visitors, on average, stay longer and spend more than summer visitors.

Some scientists, if admittedly better versed in climatology than the economics of skiing, go so far as to say ski areas will struggle to remain open, that the industry has a snowball’s chance in… well, you know.

Ski areas, if not necessarily seeing the future so bleak, are now beginning to accept the warnings as legitimate. First in Aspen, then in California, and more recently across North America, ski industry operators have publicly registered their concerns. The ski industry, explains Geraldine Linke, public affairs director for the National Ski Areas Association, adopted its position only after a broadened consensus had been achieved among scientists. It is, she adds, the first industry to assert that position, even if individual companies within various industries, such as Dow Chemical, were earlier.

What’s more remarkable about the ski industry is that operators have indicated that they could be more than just victims of climate change. Through mostly small but concrete steps, many have acknowledged that they consider their reliance upon fossil fuels as being part of the problem.

That position has not gone unnoticed. Last year, Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., the co-sponsor of a bill that would be the first deliberate admission by the United States of the seriousness of the threat, noted the ski industry support. More than 70 ski area operators have now endorsed the bill, although hundreds of other operators have not.

High and dry real estate

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