Global Warming Could Devastate California's Ski Resorts, Report Finds

12/06/2012 08:05 pm ET
  • Aaron Sankin Assistant San Francisco Editor, The Huffington Post

Despite its sun-and-surf reputation, California is just as much a haven for playing in the snow as it is for soaking up rays on the beach.

Thousands of visitors each year flock to mountainous areas like Lake Tahoe to enjoy some of the best ski slopes in the world. But a new report shows that global warming has the potential to do lasting damage to the Golden State's winter tourism economy.

The study, commissioned by environmental advocacy groups Protect Our Winters and the National Resources Defense Council, finds that the reduced snowfall and contracting snow seasons has the potential to significantly reduce the revenue generated form California's $1.37 billion winter tourism industry.

It also showed a nearly five percent decrease in the number of skier visits in California between the high and low snowfall years, which averages to about a $100 million per year drop in economic activity and a loss of 1,200 jobs.

As temperatures continue to rise due to global warming, as is predicted by most climate scientists, more and more years will likely fall on the comparatively unprofitable lower end of the snowfall spectrum. By 2050, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range is projected to decrease by 40 to 70 percent.

"The ski and snowboard industry has known for years that climate change threatens the industry," Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for the Aspen Ski Co., told NBC Los Angeles. "We know if it doesn’t snow, we're going to have less revenue, and that means less jobs in ski towns. It's harder for people to feed their families."

The 2011-12 ski season saw the fourth warmest average temperature of any winter in well over a century, forcing 88 percent of all ski resorts in the United States to use expensive, energy-intensive artificial snowmaking techniques.

The skiing and snowmobiling industries contribute $12.2 billion a year to the United States economy and support some 600,000 jobs. In California alone, the winter tourism industry (and related fields like restaurants catering to ski resort patrons) employed nearly 24,000 people in 2010.

"In order to protect winter--and the hundreds of thousands whose livelihoods depend upon a snow-filled season--we must act now to support policies that protect our climate, and in turn, our slopes," wrote study authors Elizabeth Burakowski and Matthew Magnusson of the University of New Hampshire.

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