Report: Climate Change Impacting Utah's Winter Sports Economy

Mar 1, 2018

Winter arrived late in Utah, and resorts have struggled to make and keep enough snow to attract skiers and snowboarders and the money they bring to the state. 

According to a new report released by Protect Our Winters, warmer winters associated with a changing climate are here to stay, unless large-scale efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are mounted. 

Kevin Emerson, energy efficiency program director with Utah Clean Energy, says the winter sports industry, which was built on predictable levels of snowfall, already is seeing economic impacts.

"The ski industry, it's a huge engine in Utah's economy," he says. "So it's absolutely an environmental issue, but climate change is also a very significant economic issue."

During the 2015-16 ski season, winter sports added more than $20 billion to the national economy through spending at resorts, hotels, restaurants, bars, grocery stores and gas stations. 

Researchers found that a year with low amounts of snowfall results in a loss of more than a billion dollars in economic activity, and a loss of more than 17,000 jobs. 

The Trump administration has prioritized boosting the fossil-fuel industry over tackling climate change, and E-P-A chief Scott Pruitt recently claimed that humanity has benefitted during warming periods.

Mario Molina, executive director of Protect Our Winters disagrees and says in addition to thinner snowpacks at resorts, recent natural disasters - including floods unleashed by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and massive wildfires and subsequent mudslides in California - are further examples of the downsides of a warming planet. 

Molina says ski resorts are adapting by lowering emissions, introducing ski passes that can be used wherever snow does fall, and by adding spring and summer activities.

"However, the challenge here is that even all of those adaptations will only work if we still have some semblance of a winter season," he says. "And that means sub-freezing temperatures at night that are needed for making and maintaining snow."

Molina says people across the political spectrum share a love for winter sports and benefit from the economic activity they generate. Molina says he hopes the information in the report will lead policymakers to keep winter sports viable for future generations by enacting what he calls climate-sensible policies.