Climate Change and Winter Recreation

BY ON February 1, 2019

winter recreation like this little girl snowboarding is at risk due to climate change

This is an excerpt from a research brief by Climate Central:

To many Americans, a mild winter may seem like a pleasant prospect. Higher temperatures can melt ice from roads, slash home heating costs, and make hats and scarves unneeded. And as the climate heats up because of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, plenty of warmer Decembers, Januaries, and Februaries are in store. In fact, in most U.S. states, winters have already warmed faster than any other season.

But warmer winters come with serious costs — and those costs will rise as winters get even warmer in the decades to come. Mild winter temperatures can interfere with crop growth; let disease-carrying pests, such as mosquitos, creep further into the cold season; and disrupt water supplies in places that rely on the slow melting of snowpack.

America’s cold-weather recreation sector has a particularly big stake in warming winters. Activities from downhill skiing to ice fishing and outdoor ice hockey all rely on low temperatures, ample snowfall, or both. Every year, winter recreation contributes billions of dollars to the United States’ economy. Winter sports also represent an important part of the country’s cultural heritage. Climate change is putting those benefits in danger.

Warming has already shifted snowfall patterns around the country. It has made winters hotter, on average, and is shrinking the number of days per year with below-freezing temperatures, which are essential to almost all winter recreation activities. The extent of the change in the decades ahead depends on the world’s emission choices today.

What Winter Is Worth

How much are winter sports worth? Some social scientists have worked to calculate the benefits that downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and the like deliver to the American economy. At issue are not only the immediate economic contributions of lift passes or equipment purchases, but the money that Americans spend on everything else they consume when they go out into the cold, from rental cars and hotel rooms to meals in restaurants.

Protect Our Winters, an advocacy group focusing on winter sports and climate change, has synthesized much of the independent research around these questions. Taken together, the findings are striking. Nearly 24 million Americans participated in winter sports in the 2015-16 season. That winter, skiing and snowmobiling alone supported more than 191,000 jobs and contributed roughly $11.3 billion to the national economy. And although ski resorts account for the biggest portion of the economic contributions from winter sports, other cold-weather sports also attract millions of Americans every year. In 2016, for example, roughly 1.8 million Americans went ice fishing, and 3.5 million went snowshoeing.

Even though winter sports account for a small fraction of America’s roughly 150 million jobs, it’s worth remembering that a diminished winter sports economy would also represent a profound cultural blow. Traditions like Alaska’s Iditarod, the NHL’s outdoor games, and the Winter Olympics define the cold season for communities across the United States. Winter sports are more than just a source of employment or pleasure: they are a significant aspect of many Americans’ way of life…


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TOPICS: Climate Change, Colorado, Economics, Montana, New England, New Hampshire, New York, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming