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20 June 2016

How Climate Change is Hurting the Winter Sports Industry

If anyone tries to tell you that a recent snowfall where they live, or the existence of perpetually cold parts of the world invalidates warnings against climate change and global warming, either ignore them, punch them, or both, if you think you're co-ordinated enough. The fact of the matter is, even if it's not immediately evident, 90% of all the glaciers on the planet are receding, average annual snowfall is on a global decline and between 1972 and 2013, the average area of North America covered by snow decreased by an average of 3,100 square miles per year, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

These are real, measurable, provable problems, and their impact is more widespread than you might realise. If you're visiting this site, odds are good that you're probably a stickler for winter sports. If that's the case, you might already be feeling the pinch of climate change. In the US alone, there are 477 ski resorts, with 56.2 million annual visitors. It's a massive, multi-billion pound industry which is vital to the economic structure of countries like Bulgaria, Romania and many US states.

Different trends and estimates about the reduction in snowpack have suggested that by somewhere between 2070 and 2100, many ski resorts will have to close for good, as the amount of snow suitable for skiing is reduced the very uppermost parts of the mountains. As jobs at ski resorts are seasonal, a bad year can result in massive job loss, and sometimes resorts won't even survive a bad year. In 2015, a massive west coast drought in the States caused a massive, ruinous reduction in ski tourism, with dozens of resorts closing up their doors, including a few in Alaska. During the winter of 2011-2012, there was a 15% drop in skiier visitation there, leading to an estimated loss of $1.1 billion and as many as 27,000 jobs.

It's a simple equation - in order to ski, you need it to snow, and in order for it to snow, an average temperature of between 28 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit needs to persist.That is normally fairly common at altitude, but as the global temperature warms, that snow turns to rain, and rain melts snowpack. It can take decades of consistent fall and ice build up for snowpack to reform, so once it goes, those slopes may never open ever again.

It goes beyond tourism, winter events are also feeling the sting. It is thought that only 6 of the last 19 host locations for the Winter Olympics will still be cold enough for the games some 75 years from now, and many places are already resorting to artificial ice and snow making technology, which is an environmentally damaging practice in and of itself. The lack of anywhere with enough snow to host the games could result in a massive loss in Olympic participation and viewership, crippling winter athletic funding almost worldwide.

These dry winters won't stop, they are becoming more and more frequent and each new one dents the industry that little bit harder. Obviously, reduced snowfall and snowpack has a lot of other, broader implications, particularly when you're talking about the supply of fresh water, but the damage being done to ski resorts is a prime example of how much climate change is hurting us all on an industrial, recreational level, something which is far easier to relate to.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.