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Kelly Henderson’s Blog

No Snow, No Jobs, No Fun

Kelly Henderson

Posted December 20, 2012 in Solving Global Warming

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Click here to take actionWhile you may not know it due to the unseasonably warm temperatures so far this month, this Friday December 21st is the first day of winter (and yes, also the apocalypse). Other than the Holidays and hot chocolate, most people find winter synonymous with snow and trips to their local mountain resort for a few days to get away from their daily hustle-bustle and enjoy some relaxing time on the slopes. Sadly, what many people do not realize is that those days on the slopes may be numbered due to increasing temperatures making snow fall scarcer and scarcer on mountains across the country. Climate change may be culprit for these warmer winters which are not only negatively affecting our winter vacation plans, but also the estimated $12.2 billion U.S. ski and snowmobile winter sports industry.

According to a new study by researchers from the University of New Hampshire, without intervention, winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall, and shorter snow season. Snow depths could decline in the west by 25 to 100 percent. This spells disaster for the roughly 211,900 jobs either directly or indirectly supported by the ski and snowmobile industry as those employees will find themselves out of work if these weather patterns continue. In an American winter landscape where more than three-quarters of states benefit economically from winter sports, changing snowfall patterns will have a significant economic effect.

winter-temps.jpg

                                      Winter temperature trends, 1970-2011

The study, co-sponsored by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Protect Our Winters (POW), analyzes total skier visits, winter tourism employment figures and wages from 38 states spanning from the Northeast to Alaska and everywhere in between. It was found that all states combined experienced an estimated $800 million to $1.9 billion loss in economic activity and 13,000 to 27,000 fewer jobs over the last decade when comparing the lower to higher snow fall years and the resulting changes in the outdoor habits of Americans. Five state-specific case studies from Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania all find similar results: fewer skiers, less revenue, loss of jobs.

winter-employment.jpg

                       Employment supported by winter tourism in 2009/2010.

It’s unfortunate that it takes people being personally impacted by the lack of snow for them to realize and start to care that climate change is happening and will have a major hand in further reducing snow in the years to come.

“The winter sports industry’s dependency on consistent snow is serious business,” said Chris Steinkamp, executive director of Protect Our Winters. “Without a stable climate, our industry, our jobs, the economies of mountain communities everywhere and the valued lifestyle of winter will be gone. Climate change is the greatest environmental issue of our time and it’s got the winter sports community directly in its sights. It’s our obligation as athletes and businesspeople, parents and citizens, to act.”

In order to keep the winter sports tradition alive, we must act now to stop the future effects of climate change on one of the nation’s most beloved winter pastimes. Supporting clean-energy and climate policies that reduce our carbon pollution, and opposing attempts to block such policies from moving forward are the best ways to do this. We also need to protect the laws we have, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set carbon pollution standards for major polluting industries. Specifically, we need to support setting standards for power plants which account for roughly 40 percent of the nation's total emissions. For more information on setting those standards, read my colleague, Dan Lashof’s, blog.

Many of my friends and family are avid skiers and snowboarders who have personally noticed the effects of diminishing snow on their local slopes. My brother, Jack Henderson, a student at Appalachian State University in the town of Boone, North Carolina and avid snowboarder has seen firsthand how the warmer temperatures have severely impacted the small town’s culture which relies so heavily on the winter tourism industry.

“The lack of snowfall this season so far has been incredibly noticeable in the mountain region surrounding Boone,” said Henderson. “Usually, between the three local ski resorts, there would have been many great days with fresh snow since the start of December, but this year with the lack of snow and even below-freezing temperatures I haven't hit the slopes once yet.  The local economy is definitely suffering without ski resorts bringing tourists to the area.”

Watch NRDC’s Bob Deans talk about how climate change is impacting the winter tourism industry on Fox News:

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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