Winter sports have obviously been a big deal this year in PyeongChang, South Korea, where this year’s Olympics have gone off without a hitch, riveting TV audiences worldwide. In the United States, however, the story has been a little different. According to National Public Radio, the domestic winter sports industry has taken a major hit, with losses this season estimated at about $1 billion, and there’s one major reason why: climate change.
Due in large part to the rising temperatures in many parts of the western U.S., it’s been a painfully slow start to the season. Temperatures have approached record highs; snowfall levels have ticked closer to record lows. Making fake snow is an option for the nation’s ski resorts, but many purists prefer the real stuff—and when it’s not available, the industry is sure to lose money. Projections from Protect Our Winters showed that less outdoor recreation in the U.S. leads to about 17,400 fewer seasonal employment opportunities—and those extend well beyond just ski resorts.
“When somebody goes and skies, they don’t just spend money on that lift ticket,” Colorado economist Rebecca Hill told NPR. “They also spend money at restaurants in the area. They buy gas in the area. So it’s those other support industries that are also going to be harmed.”
It’s not easy for companies that rely on winter sporting activity to address this problem. Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Ski Resorts, explained to NPR that short-term solutions are, much like the snowfall on a sunny day, unlikely to stick. Artificial snowmaking is a stopgap, but it’s not a real solution.
Little things, like removing trees and rocks to make for smoother skiing in shallow snow, can improve things at the margins. But in the grand scheme of things, limiting climate change is the only answer that’s really substantive.
“Ultimately, you’re not going to adapt to the kind of warming that we’re headed towards,” Schendler said. “We need to stop it.”