Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Impact of Climate Change on Ski Resort Operations and Development: Opportunities and Threats

To support my claim in yesterday's VWC-DEIS Comment, namely, that the future bodes ill for such grand speculations as Mr. McCombs dream of bulldozing the Alberta Park Watershed into a luxury vacation village.   I submit a few highlights from the following report, but encourage you to view the entire study at:

The Impact of Climate Change on Ski Resort Operations and Development: Opportunities and Threats
By  Daniel D. D. McGill
B.S., Human and Organizational Development, 
1999 Vanderbilt University
Submitted to the Department of Urban Studies and Planning in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Real Estate Development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology September 2007
© Daniel D. D. McGill All Rights Reserved.

The Impact of Climate Change on Ski Resort Operations and Development: Opportunities and Threats

By Daniel D. D. McGill
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
September 2007

This thesis serves as a pedagogical guide to the ski resort industry, and presents a broad overview of the unique issues that accompany climate change. {...}

With few exceptions, existing literature on this topic has neglected to consider what opportunities might emerge as a result of climate change. While the field of climatology is an ever evolving science, the ski industry would be wise to take note as global warming is likely to prove one of those tectonic forces that gradually – but powerfully – changes the economic landscape in which they operate.

Thesis Supervisor: William C. Wheaton Title: Professor of Economics

Page 2
Table of Contents
1. Introduction     5
1.1.  Background    
1.2.  Future Implications    

2. LiteratureReview     10

3. Methodology     14

3.1.  Historic Climate Data Collection     14 

3.2.  Skier Visits Data     15 
3.3.  Data Synthesis      16 
3.4.  Future Opportunities     16 

4. GlobalWarmingDemystified     18

4.1. Overview      18
4.3.  Greenhouse Warming     19 
4.4.  Reinforcing Global Warming Mechanisms     22 
4.5.  Recent Observed Warming Trends     23 


5.1. The Regional Series Outcome:     27
5.1.1.  Northeast      27 
5.1.2.  Southeast      29 
5.1.3.  Midwest      31
5.1.4.  Rocky Mountains     33 
5.1.5.  Pacific West     35 
5.2. Implications for the Future     37
Forecast Climate Change: North America     38 

6.1. Summary of IPCC Results     38

6.2.1.  North American Temperature     39 
6.2.2.  Precipitation      41 
6.2.3.  Snowfall, Snowpack     43 

7. Future Change In Regional Snowfall     45

7.1.Northeast      45 
7.2.Southeast:     46 
7.3.  Midwest      46 
7.4.  Rocky Mountains      47 
7.5.  Pacific West      47 

8. Adaptation and Risk Mitigations     49

8.1.  Artificial Snowmaking      49 
8.2.  Weather Derivatives     50 
8.3.  Revenue Diversification      51 
8.4.  Cloud Seeding      51 
8.5.  Marketing       52 

9. Conclusion      53

page 4
1. Introduction
... While professionals within the industry tend to credit this success to new innovations and clever marketing campaigns, there are several exogenous factors outside these operators’ sphere of influence which have propagated this good fortune.
Although the future looks promising for the ski industry, there are long term threats which have the potential to dramatically impact the business. This thesis will explore one such issue: climate change or global warming.

In principle it is basic to understand why climate change and its resultant warming would have a substantive impact on the ski resort industry: warmer temperatures result in shorter winters and less snow, which directly impact the bottom line. In addition, the higher frequency of extreme
(page 5) weather events, such as draughts and forest fires, increase the risk of costly damage to land, infrastructure, and facilities.

Scientists’ widespread contention that global warming increases the volume of such climatic events is supported by {...} Headlines depicting Mother Nature on a rampage have become commonplace.

To illustrate this observable fact, consider both wild fires and droughts. Wild fires pose an acute threat to the skiing industry as ever dryer conditions continue to fuel more powerful fires which have the potential of enveloping a resort’s carefully manicured ski slopes in a matter of days. In addition recent studies suggest that the resulting soot released into the air lands on mountain snowpack and leads to faster snowmelt. (Page 6) Similarly, according to a recent study, wind-blown dust from drought-stricken and disturbed lands can shorten the duration of mountain snow cover hundreds of miles away by up to a month.6

1.1. Background
Recognized as one of the most significant threats to the ski resort industry, the reality of Climate Change is no longer in doubt. 
Downhill skiing is an industry that is highly dependent on particular weather variables necessary to ensure favorable skiing conditions. Temperature and precipitation need both comply to realize adequate snowpack and enable artificial snowmaking. Should these warming patterns persist, many of the world's existing ski resorts may not have adequate snowpack to sustain business operations over the next 30 – 40 years. {note: we are on track for the high emission scenario and physics will prevail.  Bringing society greater disruptions than any experienced thus far.}

1.2. Future Implications
Reviewing the latest research reports on climate change, this study will forecast which geographic regions hold particular promise as future locations for ski operations in light of climate change. Could Canada and/or Alaska emerge as the new hotspots for the sport’s enthusiasts?


page 9
2. Literature Review
Following is a review of numerous professional and academic papers assessing both the socioeconomic and ecological impacts of climate change, with concentrations on specific geographic regions of the U.S.  The Michigan Journal of Economics published a paper entitled The Economic Impact of Climate Change on the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Downhill Skiing Industry {...}
Colorado College released a report in 2006 entitled The 2006 Colorado College State of the Rockies Report Card, {...}

Finally, Figure 2.3 shows the forecast change in precipitation under both scenarios. The report predicts an increase throughout much of the Rockies in higher latitude regions. Much of this increase will manifest itself as rain however, negatively impacting ski resorts in those regions. . .
Figure 2.3: Annual Precipitation Change, 1976 to 2085* (Centimeters Per Year)
Source: The 2006 Colorado College State Of The Rockies Report Card


The State Of The Rockies Report forecasts dramatic reductions in snowpack in counties which house some of the Rockies’ largest ski areas. {...}18

An additional paper which is uniquely apropos considering today’s headlines, is entitled Wildfires in the West (S.W. Running et. al., 2006) and chronicles the ever growing risk of fire in the western United States. {...} 19

page 12

Another comprehensive report is Aspen Global Change Institute’s Climate Change and Aspen: An Assessment of Impacts and Potential Responses. {...}20 The results of the climate modeling were then used to examine how variations in climate will affect both Aspen’s socioeconomic well being and the diverse ecosystem. The report concludes with a discussion of the primary regional stakeholders and actions they can undertake in response to forecast changes.


page 17
4. Global Warming Demystified
While the scope of this thesis is fundamentally regional in natural and focused on a specific graphic area, it is necessary to understand the anatomy of global climate change. What follows in this section is a brief yet concise explanation of the global warming phenomenon.

4.1. Overview
These natural data warehouses confirm that long-term variations of climate conditions are a completely natural. These variations occur in accordance with the variation, distribution and magnitude of solar radiation, which are further amplified by ocean-land-atmosphere interactions.25    However, the swift temperature increase observed in the past half century cannot be fully explained by these natural influences.{...}

page 23
Figure 4.3. Global near-surface temperatures for land, ocean, and combined land and ocean

In another large-scale exercise, Mann et al. (1998, 1999) used historical data from tree rings, ice cores, and other ‘proxies’ to reconstruct the northern hemisphere’s mean temperature over the past 1,000 years. This resulted in the ‘hockey stick’ chart (Figure 4.4) which reflects a dramatic positive shift in temperatures over the last 30 years or so.

Figure 4.4: Northern Hemisphere’s Mean Temperature over the past 1,000 years
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2001), vol.II, Summary for Policy Makers.


NOTE:  It should be mentioned that while denialist relentlessly attack Dr. Mann, his work stands up and has been supported by the results from numerous other studies looking at our planet's climatic history.

For more information here are three articles providing excellent background:

It's Not About The Hockey Stick!


There’s actually much more to this 58 page study than I can reprint here, which is why I encourage you view the entire Daniel D. D. McGill study at:

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Dear Friends of Alberta Park and Wolf Creek, 
we have this one moment to tell the Rio Grande Forest Service and the US Department of Agriculture's powers-that-be what a destructive boondoggle this luxury Village at 10,500± elevation would be.

But, they'll never listen to you, if you don't contact them!
Here's where to do that, but you need to do it now, September:

Commenting on This Project
The Forest Service values public input. Comments received, including respondents’ names and addresses, will become part of the public record for this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments will not provide the agency with the ability to provide you with project updates. The Forest Service wishes to provide you with as many opportunities as possible to learn about our activities.

Official Deadline for comments: 10/11/2012. 


  1. Skiing has to be one of the most active, mainstream family holidays going.

    Brian Head

  2. No argument there.

    Another reason why we need to recognize global changes people have set into motion and to finally start proactively addressing those changes or skiing with your kids on a beautiful mountain side will become a thing of the past and not the future.