The Climate Council has released a report which outlines the likely impacts of climate change on tourism in Australia.

The section on the snow sports industry confirms what we already know: that climate change will have significant impacts on the economics of the sector, with resulting loss of jobs and local businesses. It highlights the fact that despite attempts to broaden activity at ski resorts into the ‘green season’, a large proportion of income is still derived during winter and hence there are limitations to how resorts can buffer against bad winters.

In Victoria, Mt Stirling and Mt Buller have been most affected by shorter ski seasons.

It contains some interesting stats about the industry:

  • In 2011, there were an estimated 2.91 million visitor days in New South Wales and Victorian alpine resorts, worth $2 billion per year and supporting 25,000 jobs
  • Many local businesses (~38% New South Wales and 30% in Victoria) do not operate outside the winter months. Non-snow-based tourism revenue is worth only about 30% of winter revenue.
  • Declining domestic tourism is already being experienced in Australian alpine resorts. Between 2001 and 2012, the proportion of Australian skiers and snowboarders visiting local slopes has declined 30%. As skiers and snowboarders look to better conditions elsewhere around the world, including New Zealand, Japan and Canada, this trend is likely to continue
  • As resorts need to rely more heavily on artificial snow this will have impacts on their economic bottom line: Snow-making is costly and water-demanding. For example, at Perisher Blue, resort management increased the total number of snow guns to 271 and the area of artificial snow to 53 ha, at a cost of $19 million between 2007-2009. Artificial snow-making also relies on the availability of water and electricity. Analysis by Pickering and Buckley (2010) showed that for six main resorts, compensating for the reduction of natural snow cover will require 700 additional snow guns by 2020, requiring ~$US 100 million in capital investment and 2500-3300 ML of water per month, as well as increased energy consumption. However, water availability is likely to decrease in the Australian Alps in the future, from a combination of higher summer temperatures, lower precipitation, and reduced runoff. By the 2020s, snowmaking at the lower elevation resorts may simply be too costly
  • Awareness of the ski industry to climate change risks is growing, with increased diversification to year-round tourism seen as a necessary adaptation to deteriorating ski conditions. Many ski tourism operators surveyed by Roman et al. (2010), however, felt overwhelmed by the issue of climate change, and were far more focused on dealing with current seasonal variation and extreme weather events, than planning for long-term changes.

Impacts on snow:

  • Declines of maximum snow depth and decreasing season length at Australian ski resorts have been reported for over 25 years. For example, the length of the ski season has contracted by 17-28% across all Victorian resorts in recent decades with the greatest contraction at Mt Stirling and Mt Buller, and least at Mt Baw Baw and Falls Creek
  • Declining snow cover is strongly associated with increasing maximum temperatures.
  • As the climate continues to warm, ongoing declines of snow are projected for all alpine areas, with resorts at lower elevations most vulnerable
  • Substantial declines in snowfall are projected for all resorts over the rest of this century – 60-80% under a high emissions scenario. Under this scenario, only the highest peaks (such as Mt Perisher and Falls Creek) will experience any snow
  • Differential impacts of climate change on snow cover in Australia and New Zealand may be particularly critical for the relative competitiveness of ski resorts in the two countries. By the 2040s, for example, some climate models indicate that maximum snow depth at Australian resorts could decline by 57-78%. The same climate models applied to New Zealand resorts over the same period suggest snow cover there will be largely unchanged. As natural snow cover continues to decline, the need for artificial snow-making to maintain the viability of resorts will increase. Indeed, in years of low snowfall, some resorts have only been able to open due to artificial snow-making. Unfortunately, opportunities to make artificial snow will progressively decrease at the same time because snow can only be made under conditions of low temperature and humidity. Relative to the 2010s, it has been estimated that opportunities for snow making could be approximately halved by 2030 at most resorts.

Please check the report (available here) for the references used in these statistics. For further information about Climate Council work on tourism, check here.

Here’s some good news stories of ski resorts and industry brands taking action on climate change.