Most Ski Resorts in Warmer New England May Disappear By 2100

Feb 7, 2014

Vermont skiers may still be able to enjoy the slopes a century down the line.
Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com / Thinkstock

A climate scientist said that ski resorts in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island may not continue to be economically viable at the end of the century, as the region sees warmer winters.

Vermont resorts are less vulnerable, because many are at higher elevations, and have invested in new snowmaking technology.

Elizabeth Burakowski, a researcher with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that to be profitable, resorts need to be open 100 days a season -- and during holidays -- and have snowmaking technology. She spoke as part of a panel during a presentation called, "Brown Slopes, Bare Trails? The Impact of Climate Change on Winter Sports." It took place on Thursday at Vermont Law School, examining the impact of climate change on the winter sports industry.

Burakowski cited a report she co-authored at the University of New Hampshire, "Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States," done for the Natural Resources Defense Council and Protect Our Winters. The report notes that in the northeastern U.S., "only four out of 14 major ski resorts will remain profitable by 2100 under a higher-emissions scenario."

Winter temperature trends across the U.S. from 1970 to 2011.
Credit Natural Resources Defense Council

The winter tourism industry in the 2009-2010 season added $66 million to the Connecticut and Rhode Island state economies combined, and provided jobs for just under 1,200 people, according to the report. "New York and Vermont led the eastern United States in winter tourism activity," the report states, "collectively supporting 28,044 employees and generating more than $1.6 billion in value added to their economies."

Value added to state economies by the winter tourism industry in 2009-2010.
Credit Natural Resources Defense Council

When the region sees minimal snowfall for a season, there are far fewer visits to ski resorts. Over the decade from 1999 to 2000, the average drop per year in such visits for Connecticut and Rhode Island resorts combined was 24 percent -- a bigger difference than for any other state in New England.

The drop in visits to ski resorts over that time in Connecticut and Rhode Island meant a loss of about $12 million in ski resort revenue, according to the report, and a loss of about 150 jobs. Northern New England lost 1,700 jobs due to the low-snow years.

The average difference in skier visits for lower-snowfall years compared to higher-snowfall years, 1999 through 2010.
Credit Natural Resources Defense Council

"Despite heavy investments in snowmaking," the report says, "the northeastern United States remained susceptible to fluctuations in natural snowfall." Burakowski said that Vermont resorts are less vulnerable, because many are at higher elevations, and have invested in new snowmaking technology.

Mitch Tobin at ecowest.org provided a visualization of the data from the report, for a closer look across the country.

Read more as well at The New York Times in Porter Fox's article, "The End of Snow?" Fox writes, "Nothing besides a national policy shift on how we create and consume energy will keep our mountains white in the winter -- and slow global warming to a safe level. This is no longer a scientific debate. It is scientific fact."

This report includes information from The Associated Press.