Blick auf ein Skigebiet, im Hintergrund Gebäude

The low-lying American ski resort of Wachusett Mountain in the state of Massachusetts.

US ski indus­try suf­fered a $5 bil­lion hit from cli­mate change

For the first time, a study has estimated the economic damage of climate change to the ski industry. The study by the University of Innsbruck and the University of Waterloo in Canada reveals that the economic losses to the US ski industry from human-caused climate change exceeded more than US$5 billion over the last two decades.

The research compared ski seasons in winters as they once were in the 1960s and 1970s with the last two decades (2000-2019). The analysis determined the average ski season has been shortened between five to seven days and lost skier visits combined with increased snowmaking has cost the US ski industry an average of US$252 million per year.

“We are probably past the era of peak ski seasons,” says Robert Steiger from the Department of Economics at the University of Innsbruck. “Average ski seasons in all US regional markets are projected to get shorter in the decades ahead under all emission futures. How much shorter is dependent on the ability of all countries to deliver on their Paris Climate Agreement emission reduction commitments.”

The multi-billion-dollar ski industry has long been identified as one of the most at-risk components of the tourism system. The study is a critical first step in understanding the financial impact on the ski industry and the broader economic damages to ski tourism and destination communities more broadly.

A look to the future

For the decades ahead, the researchers calculated the national losses that would occur under a range of GHG emission scenarios. For the 2050s, even with advanced snowmaking the research found ski seasons are projected to shorten between 14 to 33 days in a low emission future and 27-62 days in a high emission future. The impacts on the ski industry would double to US$657 million in a low-emission scenario or as much as quintuple to US$1352 million in a high-emission scenario.

“There are two very different futures for the ski industry. If the Paris Climate Agreement is achieved and global warming is held below +2°C, the ski industry of the future will resemble that of today. But if the world continues on a higher emission trajectory, Après ski will take on a very different meaning for many ski areas.” says Daniel Scott, professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at University of Waterloo .

Conservative estimate

These estimates are considered somewhat conservative as they only include lost direct revenue from reduced ski visits and increased operational costs from more snow production. The study does not account for decreases in hotel, retail and other spending from ski tourism, which can have a much larger impact on the destination economy.  Capital costs of expanded snowmaking and impacts on real-estate values at highly impacted ski destinations, also could not be factored in at this time.

“Climate change is an evolving business reality for the ski industry and the tourism sector. The record-breaking temperatures this winter provided a preview of the future.  It tested the limits of snowmaking in many areas and altered the ski visits and destination choices of millions of skiers” says Daniel Scott. Robert Steiger adds: “Similar analyses in other regional markets and further research on the sustainability of snowmaking and skier demand responses are needed to determine how the competitiveness of ski destinations across North America and around the world will evolve as climate change unfolds.”

The study, "How climate change is damaging the US ski industry" (DOI: 10.1080/13683500.2024.2314700), was recently published in Current Issues in Tourism.

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