Climate change affecting ski sector

Dec. 7, 2012 at 1:41 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. winter sports industry could face economic thawing if climate change goes unaddressed, a new report states.

Already, over the last decade, the $12.2 billion winter sports sector, which covers 38 states, has experienced an estimated $1 billion loss and the loss of nearly 27,000 jobs because of reduced snow fall, says the study released Thursday by Protect Our Winters and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4-10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, resulting in reductions in snow cover area, snowfall and a shorter snow season, the report says.

In the West, snow depths could diminish 25 percent to 100 percent, depending on elevation and latitude. In the Northeast, the length of the snow season could be cut in half.

"In the many U.S. states that rely on winter tourism, climate change is expected to contribute to warmer winters, reduced snowfall, and shorter snow seasons," Elizabeth Burakowski, a researcher at the University of New Hampshire and co-author of the report, said in a statement.

"This spells significant economic uncertainty for a winter sports industry deeply dependent upon predictable, heavy snowfall."

December 2011 to February 2012 was the fourth-warmest winter on record since 1896 and the third lowest snow cover seen since 1966, when satellites began tracking snow cover.

A survey by the National Ski Areas Association indicates that last season, 50 percent of ski areas opened late and 48 percent closed early, with every region experiencing a decrease in overall days of operation.

"Ski areas have not been on the sidelines when it comes to climate change," association's President Michael Berry, was quoted as saying by The Salt Lake Tribune.

The association adopted a climate change policy in 2002, encouraging member resorts to record their emissions of greenhouse gases, retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient and promote mass transit use by guests and employees.

This year, nearly one-third of its 321 member resorts sent letters to Congress in support of clean-energy legislation, power plant carbon emissions standards and the wind energy production tax credit, Berry said.

Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Ski Co., said the new report provides the ski industry with the necessary information to lobby for tougher emission standards nationally.

He called upon the sector to "use the base of 21 million winter enthusiasts in the sports world to drive critical policy changes so we can ski for the next 100 years."

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