'keep it cool. Stop climate change'. Dinner Plain, June 2011
‘keep it cool. Stop climate change’. Dinner Plain, June 2011

The following article has an astonishing fact: 600 U.S. ski areas have disappeared over the past 60 years.

In the article A Snowball’s Chance, written for Boston magazine, Madison Kahn uses the example of Hogback Mountain in Vermont, a small resort that used to be ‘teeming with skiers.’

“The trouble started in the 1970s, when scientists say that temperatures began to rise significantly (in truth, there was little climate research done before then). A series of spotty seasons, coupled with the sharp spike in gas prices brought on by the 1973 oil crisis, hit the mountain hard. It finally shuttered for good in 1986”.

Madison contrasts it with the nearby resort at Mount Snow, which has survived.

“Just 15 miles apart, both ski areas are located in the middle of what was not long ago part of the Northeast’s 120-inch Snowbelt. Why did one die and the other prosper? Simple economics: Mount Snow could afford the snowmaking technology needed to stay open when temperatures began to rise. Hogback couldn’t”.

However, in an observation that should ring bells for us Australians, where much of our snow country is fairly marginal, and where winters are getting warmer, Madison notes:

“making enough snow is becoming an increasingly difficult proposition”.

Hotham Village
Hotham Village

Research cited in the article suggests that “of the resorts (in the Northeast that are) able to stay open, at least 75 percent will require substantial artificial snowmaking to survive, which, in turn, will significantly increase operational costs and lift-ticket prices”. Skiing or riding in resort in Australia is hardly a cheap option as it is.

“Almost 600 U.S. ski areas have disappeared in the past 60 years, many of them victims of warmer winters. In fact, if warming trends continue at their current rates, within the next few decades, the multibillion-dollar New England ski industry could collapse entirely”.

Here in Australia, there has been a similar response from management boards as they grapple with more erratic winters, with greater attention to snow making and attempts to re-brand resorts as ‘year round’ destinations. Where previously a number of Australian resorts were responding to the threat of climate change, now they have clearly put it in the ‘too hard’ basket. Climate mitigation programs have been quietly dropped as resorts struggle to find new ‘bells and whistles’ to appeal to visitors each year.

Of course, none of this deals with the core problem. Half of U.S. ski areas are opening late and closing early—and in the past 50 years, the average season length in the northeast has decreased by seven days. It’s a similar story here.

It’s interesting to note that in North America, a number of resorts are showing great leadership in terms of playing their part to reduce contributions to global warming.

As we all start to wonder about what this winter may have in store for us, isn’t it time the industry started to seriously face up to the facts of global warming?