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New Study Says Winter Sports Resorts Need To Diversify

Okemo Mountain Resort
Ski Vermont

A professor at the University of New Hampshire has released a report concluding winter sports resorts need to adjust to warmer winters caused by climate change.

Elizabeth Burakowski, of the University of New Hampshire’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, has released a study on the economics of winter sports in a changing climate.  Burakowski says climate change is impacting resorts’ revenue and the economy of surrounding communities. Her research compares the economy during the five years with the highest snowfall and the five years with the lowest snowfall between 2001 and 2015 at resorts nationwide.

“During our lowest years we see about 5.5 million fewer skier visits.  So, it’s a 10 percent reduction in visits and that means that we see 17,400 fewer jobs during those low snow years and about $1 billion in economic activity,” says Burakowski.

Burakowski says high snowfall seasons are beneficial for resorts — but not enough to offset losses from low snowfall years.

The study also focuses on how resorts are tracking and reducing their carbon footprints.

“This is largely through the National Ski Areas Association’s Climate Challenge program.  We had about 38 resorts that participated on the most recent season, and there are about 450 or so resorts nationwide.  We’ve also seen a lot of increase in efficiency with respect to snowmaking,” says Burakowski.

Crystal Fillmore is communications manager for Killington Ski resort in Vermont. She says new technology is helping with efficiency.

“All the guns we purchase for the last couple of years are all high-efficiency snow guns.  So, they use less air and less water to make the same amount of snow, and that’s one of our initiatives here at Killington is protecting our playground for future generations,” says Fillmore.

Jon Lundin is Communications Director for the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority and spokesperson for Whiteface Mountain.

“When the opportunities are there, when the weather allows us to make snow.  In the past ski resorts that were in the habit of ‘we need to make snow we need to make it now,’ and perhaps didn’t do it at the wisest of times.  Now it’s changed you’re looking for opportunities in which you have the ideal conditions to make snow, and that’s when we’re scheduling our snowmaking to do it,” says Lundin.

Burakowski says Vermont and New York lead the region in skier visits.

“In a place like Vermont they have more skier visits than any other state in the New England region.  Pretty close to New York has about 10,000 or so skier visits per year and Vermont has just over 10,000, and this brings a lot of economic activity to the region,” says Burakowski.

She says winter sports resorts are also transitioning to year-round destinations.  Lundin says Whiteface has to be all-season to stay competitive.

“When we are not in the ski season we do offer year-round activities.  They could be gondola rides, they could be our adventure park of course for Whiteface we have the uniqueness of the Veterans Memorial Highway.  We have about 78,000 people who will visit that highway when it’s open June through October.   There are a number of things we do to sustain our revenue through the year,” says Lundin.

Fillmore says Killington has added other attractions beyond the slopes.

“We’ve also added a year-round season pass and that season pass includes not just skiing and riding but also our golf course, the mountain bike course and our adventure center in the summer,” says Fillmore.

Burakowski says such diversification will help keep the industry alive as winters become warmer and snowfall decreases.