New Study Reveals Bleak Outlook for Northeast Ski Resorts

An article that appeared a few days ago in The New York Times contained some very disheartening news for skiers and snowboarders in in the northeastern United States. And yes, it involves climate change.

According to a study conducted by the Interdisciplinary Center on Climate Change (ICCC) at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, more than half of the region’s 103 resorts “will not be able to maintain a 100-day season” by the year 2039. The state-by-state outlook is even more troubling. According to ICCC Director Daniel Scott, virtually every ski area in Connecticut and Massachusetts will be rendered economically unviable, while more than half of the resorts in Maine and New Hampshire will be forced to close and the total number of ski areas in New York will fall 75 percent.

Worst of all, scientists predict that these closures represent merely the first wave of vanishing ski areas. As temperatures rise, resorts located at relatively low elevations (like most Northeast establishments) will become inoperable. And if the winters continue to grow warmer (2011-12 was the fourth-warmest winter on record), then resorts located in the central and western U.S. could be the next to go. The average winter temperature of the Rocky Mountains is projected to rise at least 7 degrees by the end of the century, and several resorts in Colorado were forced to postpone their opening dates this season.

Another report published the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warned that “economic devastation” will occur if these climate predictions prove to be accurate. The ski and snowboard industry currently generates $10.7 billion in annual revenue and employs more than 187,000 people in 38 states. But not surprisingly, the industry’s ability to turn a profit is largely determined by annual snowfall and length of season; when comparing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ seasons, the NRDC study found that the industry lost $1.07 billion in revenue during the last decade.

The good news is that, so far, most resorts facing inadequate snowfall have been able to manufacture enough snow to keep the slopes open. However, the NRDC report also notes that “nighttime minimum temperatures warming at a faster rate than daytime maximum temperatures” may hinder the long-term sustainability of snow-making operations.

While many skiers and snowboarders remain optimistic about the future of their favorite resorts, the scientific community’s outlook is startlingly bleak. So if you’re a snowhound who hails from the Northeast, you may want to log some serious hours on the slopes over the next 25 winter seasons. That, and learn how to operate a jetski.

By Brad Nehring

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