Monday, December 10, 2012

Winter Economy and the Climate Change

A pair of reports released Thursday underscore the threats to winter tourist economies in states like Utah because of climate change. And one of the reports notes that 2012 was the most extreme weather year on record and on pace to be hottest in U.S. history.

A report by the Natural Resource Defense Council and Protect Our Winters said Utah suffers a 14 percent decline in ski visits in years of low snowfall when compared to ample snow seasons. That drop equates to a loss of ski resort revenue of $87 million and a decrease of 1,000 jobs.

For Brent Giles, director of sustainability for POWDR Corp., which owns Park City Mountain Resort and other resorts across the country, the impacts are a no-brainer.

Elizabeth Burakowski, a researcher with the University of New Hampshire and a co-author of the report, said climate change is threatening the nation's $12.2 billion winter tourism industry, with decreased snowfall, warmer temperatures and more storms that bring rain.

An estimated 12,964 jobs spring from winter tourism in Utah, injecting $425 million into the economy with wages and providing an overall economic benefit pegged at $744 million, according to the report.

Giles, who has worked at the resort for 34 years, said he has witnessed the changes in snowfall.

Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at the Aspen Ski Co., said the time is overdue for the winter tourism industry and especially the trade associations to leverage their economic muscle to push political change, lobbying Congress, the media and the public for carbon emission reductions in power plants.

"The thought is that the ski industry is doing just fine, which is a puzzling response from a business… There is an enormous upside to preserving a sport that is incredibly meaningful to millions of people."
Giles understands Schendler's frustration.

Giles' company has done its own climate change reports, Save Our Snow, most recently as 2009. One report predicted that if climate change plays out like some scientists say it will with a retreating snow pack, the economic impacts by 2050 would be a $392 million dagger in the area economy.

To help do its part, POWDR resorts has invested $6 million on environmental initiatives and is a founding member of the National Ski Area Association's Climate Challenge, in which members detail their carbon footprint and list targets for reduction. Deseret News

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