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Environment | Land

Study: Climate Changes Hurts Winter Tourism

RICHLAND, Wash. – Warmer winters caused by climate change could make it more difficult to operate ski resorts in the Northwest. A new study by researchers at the University of New Hampshire says these mild winters and poor ski seasons are becoming more common.

In years with less snow, fewer skiers visited resorts in the Pacific Northwest:

  • Idaho had 17 percent fewer skiers;

  • Washington had 28 percent fewer skiers;

  • Oregon had 31 percent fewer skiers.

That means fewer resort jobs and less money nationally for the winter tourism industry.

“The key thing to understand here is that snow is currency in the 38 states that benefit from the $12.2 billion winter tourism industry,” said Elizabeth Burakowski, co-author of the study.

For the 2009-2010 ski season:

  • Idaho employed 5,488 people;

  • Washington employed 6,039 people;

  • Oregon employed 5,565 people.

White Pass Ski Area in central Washington has been focused on climate change since the early 1990, said spokesperson Kathleen Goyette. She said the resort has faced roughly one drought per decade, opening for 25 days during the 2004-2005 snow season.

If climate change increased the drought rate, Goyette said, it would hurt business.

“We are interested in the here and now of: Are ski conditions good today? Or is it going to be sunny in town today and a foot of fresh powder on the mountain? Those are our primary concerns because we need to stay in business,” Goyette said. “But in order to stay in business in the long-haul, we need to educate not just industry, not just people who are winter sports enthusiasts. But the impact is clearly on all people when it comes down to it.”

Study authors say climate change means less snow and more rain at lower-elevations. In the Cascades and Sierra Nevadas, the study says snowpack will decrease up to 70 percent by 2050.

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