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Will the skiing industry survive the effects of climate change?

Trends in climate data have reported warmer winter seasons with increasingly less snow and shorter winters. What could this mean for skiers?

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Skiers line up at the Caynon Express high speed chairlift.

In this photo provided by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, skiers line up at the Caynon Express high speed chairlift in Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., on Friday, April 15, 2022.

Peter Morning, MMSA via Associated Press

Climate studies across the country have recorded warming temperatures and shorter winter seasons over time. Experts are finding that this could have consequences for the skiing industry.

Shorter ski seasons: A study in the Geophysical Research Letters reports that the ski season in the United States shrunk by an average of 34 days and snow cover dropped by an average of 41% from 1982 to 2016.

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a study examining long-term snowfall data shows that the ski season in the Sierra Nevada has shifted two weeks later between 1930 and 2007.
  • NPR reported that in Aspen, Colorado, one of the world’s most popular ski towns, the annual temperature has risen by about 3 degrees since the 1980s.
  • With more than half of the country experiencing drought conditions in recent years, many ski resorts in the U.S. are relying almost entirely on artificial snow. This trend will likely continue due to the shorter seasons, according to The New York Times.

Climate change creates dangerous skiing conditions: Along with shortened seasons, the effects of climate change, such as wildfires and dramatic temperature changes, can lead to less than desirable skiing conditions.

  • Drew Hardesty, a forecaster at the Utah Avalanche Center, states that wildfires brought about by climate change can lead to increasingly dangerous avalanches, according to The New York Times.
  • Layers of ash and dust in the snowpack create weak layers of snow that are more likely to turn into an avalanche. The ash and dust can also accelerate the melting of the snow, said Hardesty to The New York Times.
  • Climate change can also bring dramatic temperature shifts. Warm temperatures during the day can cause the snow to melt, but then freeze once nightfall hits. This creates icy layers that make it harder for skiers to maintain control, and could lead to a dangerous fall, according to Climate.gov.

Looking to the future: Xubin Zeng, director of the Climate Dynamics and Hydrometeorology Center at the University of Arizona, predicts that the trend of the shortening snow season will double by 2050, reported The New York Times.

  • NOAA data has indicated that by 2100, the Wasatch mountains could be void of any snowpack at all, with current trends seeing a higher rain to snow ratio as time goes on. These trends have also been noted in other mountain ranges, such as the Sierra Nevada region, according to Climate.gov.
  • Not only will the skiers be adversely affected by the changing ski conditions, but the many people living and working in ski towns who base their livelihood around the ski industry. Shorter seasons could have dire consequences on those who live and work in these areas, states Climate.gov.