Original Article

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 577-596

First online:

Climate change vulnerability of the US Northeast winter recreation– tourism sector

  • Daniel ScottAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Waterloo Email author 
  • , Jackie DawsonAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Waterloo
  • , Brenda JonesAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Waterloo

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Winter recreation is an important part of the cultural identity of the Northeast United States and is a multibillion dollar contributor to the regional economy. This study examined the vulnerability of the two largest winter recreation industries, snowmobiling and alpine skiing, to four climate change scenarios for the twenty-first century. Under all scenarios, natural snow became an increasingly scarce resource. The diminished natural snow pack had a very negative impact on the snowmobile industry. As early as 2010–2039, 4 to 6 of the 15 snowmobile study areas were projected to lose more than half of the current season. Reliable snowmobile seasons (>50 days) were virtually eliminated in the region under the A1Fi scenarios by 2070–2099. The large investment in snowmaking substantially reduced the vulnerability of the ski industry and climate change posed a risk to only 4 of the 14 ski areas in 2010–2039, where average ski seasons declined below 100 days and the probability of being open for the entire Christmas–New Year’s holiday declined below 75%. Conversely, by 2070–2099 only four ski study areas had not reached these same economic risk criteria. In order to minimize ski season losses, snowmaking requirements are projected to increase substantially, raising important uncertainties about water availability and cost. Climate change represents a notable threat to the winter recreation sector in the Northeast, and the potential economic ramifications for businesses and communities heavily invested in winter tourism and related real estate is sizeable.


Adaptation Climate change Recreation Skiing Snowmobiling Tourism Winter sports Snowmaking