Each spring, brand name winter sports athletes travel to Washington, D.C. where snowboarder Jeremy Jones and skier Chris Davenport, among others, lobby politicians to take action on global warming. But tales of diminishing winter in the high country are not enough for the members of Congress—they need numbers. What’s the economic impact of global warming?
On December 13, Protect Our Winters (POW), a climate change nonprofit founded by Jones, and the National Resources Defense Council delivered those numbers in a study conducted by University of New Hampshire researchers. “We’re not trying to bring everyone down and tell them winter’s over,” says Chris Steinkamp, the executive director of POW. “No one ever pulled these numbers together. Now there’s a price tag on winter and people will understand what’s at stake.”
The study found that 38 states benefit from winter tourism. From 2000 to 2010, ski facilities produced about 76,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in salaries, wages and benefits. Indirectly, the ski and snowmobile industry supports 211,900 jobs and adds $12.2 billion to the U.S. economy. But as global warming causes balmier winters—temperatures could rise 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100—snow depths are projected to decrease by 25 to 100 percent in the West. And the winter season could be halved. A meager snow year could trigger a loss of 9,400 to 27,000 jobs tied to winter tourism. Even today, Colorado loses $154 million in ski resort revenue in low snow years.
“All of us are concerned with climate change, and we know that it’s somewhat of an uphill battle in Washington,” says Michael Berry, the president of the National Ski Areas Association. He noted that the NSAA introduced policies to encourage resorts and guest to mitigate climate change in 2002. “We obviously have a real interest. Our dependency on winter is unequivocal.”
Steinkamp says POW and winter sports athletes will return to Capitol Hill in 2013. The goal is to use the data to encourage lawmakers to put a price on carbon and limit emissions from coal plants. “We’ve got to get this report out,” he says. “We can’t launch it and leave it. The data’s there—hopefully other people will use it and we can get it in the hands of ski resorts.” —Olivia Dwyer
Read “Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States” in its entirety here. Visit protectourwinters.org and nrdc.org for more information. For more on POW’s background and work, read the Mtn Advocate essay Jeremy Jones wrote for the Early Winter 2011 issue.