Climate Change Threatens $11.3 Billion Snowsports Industry, Protect Our Winters Report Says

The winter sports tourism industry in the U.S. added $11.3 billion in economic value and supported more than 191,000 jobs in the 2015–2016 winter season, according to a new report from Protect Our Winters (POW). But warmer winters and decreased snowfall “threaten the livelihood of an entire industry,” says the nonprofit climate change advocacy group founded by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones in 2007.

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The report, “The Economic Contributions of Winter Sports in a Changing Climate,” specifically measured the ski (downhill ski and snowboard) and snowmobile industries. It also examined the impact of climate change on winter sports economies and the snowsports themselves.

During the 2015–2016 season, 23.5 million Americans took part in winter outdoor recreation, according to Snowsports Industries America. Downhill skiing was the most popular, with 9.3 million participants, followed by 7.6 million snowboarders. That added up to 52.8 million skiing and snowboarding days (visits). 

Downhill skiier

Among the key findings in the report:

  • Ski, snowboard and snowmobile participation supported more than 191,000 jobs, generated $6.9 billion in wages and added $11.3 billion in economic value to the U.S. economy (or $20.3 billion in output).
  • The report found the profits from the ski and snowmobile industries “extend beyond the slopes” by helping support nearby hotels, resorts, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, sporting goods stores and gas stations.
  • In high snow years, POW’s analysis showed increased skier participation resulted in an extra $692.9 million in value added and 11,800 extra jobs compared to an average season.
  • Reduced participation in low snow years cost 17,400 jobs and decreased value added by more than $1 billion compared to an average season. “The effects of low snow years impact the economy more dramatically than those of high snow years,” the report says.
  • Among individual states, Colorado saw the highest economic contribution from these winter sports: More than 43,000 jobs and $2.56 billion in economic value added in 2016.
  • Since the 1980s, the number of operating ski areas in the country has dropped from more than 700 to around 460. (Valant, 2017)

The latest study updates a 2012 report released by POW and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which found the winter sports tourism industry added $12.2 billion in economic value and 23 million Americans participated in winter sports.

Next week on the Co-op Journal, we’ll take an in-depth look at the new report from POW and share reaction from people directly impacted, from ski resorts to professional athletes.

Editor’s Note: Protect Our Winters is one of REI’s nonprofit partners, and REI helped fund the report, “The Economic Contributions of Winter Sports in a Changing Climate.”


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