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

  • Daniel ScottEmail author
  • Jackie Dawson
  • Brenda Jones
Original Article


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 



The authors are grateful to Katharine Hayhoe and the Union of Concerned Scientists for the assistance with the development of specific climate change scenario information for this analysis, Joel Zigler for his assistance with data compilation and analysis, the helpful comments of anonymous reviewers, and to all of the stakeholders from the ski industry in eastern Canada and the US that have shared their time and insights on a wide range of issues related to their industry. The support of the Canada Research Chair Program by the Government of Canada was also essential to this research.


  1. Abegg B, Agrawala S, Crick F, de Montfalcon A (2007) Climate change impacts and adaptation in winter tourism. In: Climate change in the European Alps: adapting winter tourism and natural hazards management. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris, pp 25–60Google Scholar
  2. ACACIA (2000) Tourism and recreation. In: Parry M (ed) Assessment of potential effects and adaptations for climate change in Europe. Jackson Environment Institute, University of East Anglia, NorwichGoogle Scholar
  3. Associated Press (2006a) Mild weather claims another winter event. Cited February 2006
  4. Associated Press (2006b) Where snowstorms are desired. Some parts of Northeast suffer because of snowless winter. Cited 17 February 2006
  5. Badke C (1991) Climate change and tourism: the effect of global warming on Killington, Vermont. Thesis, University of WaterlooGoogle Scholar
  6. Behringer J, Bürki R, Fuhrer J (2000) Participatory integrated assessment of adaptation to climate change in Alpine tourism and mountain agriculture. Integrated Assessment 1:331–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bicknell S, McManus P (2006) The canary in the coalmine: Australian ski resorts and their response to climate change. Geographical Research 44:386–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bloomfield J, Hamburg S, Heller N et al (1997) Global warming and Northeast’s White Mountains. Environmental Defence Fund, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  9. Bourque A, Scott D (2004) Future outlook – the effects of climate change on the North American ski industry. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of L’Association des stations de ski du Québec and the Ontario Snow Resort Association, Lac Leamy, Québec, 1–3 JuneGoogle Scholar
  10. Breiling M, Charamza P (1999) The impact of global warming on winter tourism and skiing: a regionalized model for Austrian snow conditions. Regional Environmental Change 1(1):4–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown R, Braaten R (1999) Spatial and temporal variability of Canadian monthly snow depths, 1946–1995. Atmos–Ocean 36(1):37–54Google Scholar
  12. Canada Country Study (1998) Impacts of climate change on recreation and tourism. In: Responding to global climate change – national sectoral issues. Environment Canada, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  13. Casola J, Kay J, Snover A et al (2005) Climate impacts on Washington’s hydropower, water supply, forests, fish and agriculture. Centre for Science and the Earth System, University of Washington, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  14. Cherkauer K, Bowling L, Lettenmaier D (2003) Variable infiltration capacity cold land process model updates. Glob Planet Change 38:151–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clean Air–Cool Planet (2002) Fact sheet – global warming threatens Northeast’s ski industry. Cited 11 May 2006
  16. Crowe R, McKay G, Baker W (1977) The tourist and outdoor recreation climate of Ontario, volume 3: the winter season. Environment Canada, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  17. Dritschilo G (2006) Winter washout – unusually mild weather cancels events in the region. Cited 17 February 2006
  18. Elsasser H, Messerli P (2001) The vulnerability of the snow industry in the Swiss Alps. Mt Res Dev 21(4):335–339CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elsasser H, Bürki R (2002) Climate change as a threat to tourism in the Alps. Clim Res 20:253–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Erickson J (2005) Changes in the air, part 3: bleak forecast for the ski industry. Rocky Mountain News, 19 March. Accessed 25 August 2005
  21. FAST (2005) Trail grooming – 101. Cited 20 February 2006
  22. Fukushima T, Kureha M, Ozaki N et al (2003) Influences of air temperature change on leisure industries: case study on ski activities. Mitig Adapt Strategies Clim Chang 7:173–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Galloway R (1988) The potential impact of climate change on Australian ski fields. In: Pearman G (ed) Greenhouse: planning for climatic change. CSIRO, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  24. Gates A (1975) The tourism and outdoor recreation climate of the Maritime Provinces. Environment Canada, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  25. Goodman J (2005) Battered ski area sweating for snowfall. Seattle Times, 27 OctoberGoogle Scholar
  26. Hamilton L, Rohall D, Brown B et al (2003) Warming winters and New Hampshire’s lost ski areas: an integrated case study. Int J Sociol Soc Policy 23(10):52–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hayhoe K, Cayan D, Field C et al (2004) Emission pathways, climate change, and impacts on California. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101(34):12422–12427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hayhoe K, Wake CP, Huntington TG et al (2007) Past and future changes in climate and hydrological indicators in the U.S. Northeast. Clim Dyn 28:381–407, DOI  10.1007/s00382-006-0187-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hennessy K, Whetton P, Smith I et al (2003) The impact of climate change on snow conditions in mainland Australia. CSIRO Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  30. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2001) Climate change 2001: synthesis report. Summary for policy makers. Third Assessment Report. United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  31. International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (2006a) International snowmobile industry facts and figures. Cited 18 October 2006
  32. International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (2006b) Snowmobile facts book – snow trails. Cited 14 February 2006
  33. Johnstone K, Louie P (1983) Water balance for Canadian climate stations. Report DS#8-83. Environment Canada, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  34. König U (1998) Tourism in a warmer world: implications of climate change due to enhanced greenhouse effect for the ski industry in the Australian Alps. Wirtschaftsgeographie und Raumplanung 28, University of ZurichGoogle Scholar
  35. König U, Abegg B (1997) Impacts of climate change on tourism in the Swiss Alps. J Sustain Tour 5(1):46–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lake County Forest Preserves (2005) Snowmobiling. Cited 20 February 2006
  37. Lamothe and Périard Consultants (1988) Implications of climate change for downhill skiing in Québec. Climate Change Digest 88-03. Environment Canada, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  38. Lipski S, McBoyle G (1991) The impact of global warming on downhill skiing in Michigan. East Lakes Geographer 26:37–51Google Scholar
  39. McBoyle G, Wall G (1987) The impact of CO2 induced warming on downhill skiing in the Laurentians. Cah Geogr Que 31(82):39–50Google Scholar
  40. McBoyle G, Wall G (1992) Great Lakes skiing and climate change. In: Gill A, Hartmann R (eds) Mountain resort development. Centre for Tourism Policy and Research, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  41. Nakienovi N, Alcamo J, Davis G et al (2000) Special report on emissions scenarios: a special report of working group III of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UKGoogle Scholar
  42. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2005) Record warm winter in much of Midwest and Northeast; drought worsens along eastern seaboard, NOAA reports. Cited 11 May 2006
  43. National Ski Areas Association (2005) Kottke national end of season survey 2004/05, 26th edn. National Ski Areas Association, Lakewood, ColoradoGoogle Scholar
  44. Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (2006) Trail conditions, January to April 2006. Cited 1 January to 7 April 2006
  45. Reiling S (1998) An economic evaluation of snowmobiling in Maine: an update for 1997/98. University of Maine, Orono, MaineGoogle Scholar
  46. Scott D (2004) Keynote presentation – climate change and skiing in New England. Paper presented at Annual Meeting of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, Ludlow, Vermont, USA, 16–17 JuneGoogle Scholar
  47. Scott D (2005) Global environmental change and mountain tourism. In: Gossling S, Hall CM (eds) Tourism and global environmental change. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  48. Scott D, Jones B (2005) Climate change and Banff: implications for tourism and recreation – executive summary. Banff, Alberta, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  49. Scott D, Jones B (2006) Climate change and seasonality in Canadian outdoor recreation and tourism – executive summary. University of Waterloo, Department of Geography, Waterloo, Ontario, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  50. Scott D, McBoyle G (2006) Climate change adaptations in the ski industry. Mitig Adapt Strategies Clim Chang DOI  10.1007/s11027-006-9071-4
  51. Scott D, Jones B, Lemieux C et al (2002) The vulnerability of winter recreation to climate change in Ontario’s Lakelands tourism region. Department of Geography Publication Series Occasional Paper 18. University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  52. Scott D, McBoyle G, Mills B (2003) Climate change and the skiing industry in Southern Ontario (Canada): exploring the importance of snowmaking as a technical adaptation. Clim Res 23:171–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Scott D, McBoyle G, Mills B et al (2006) Climate change and the sustainability of ski-based tourism in eastern North America; a reassessment. J Sustain Tour 14(4):376–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Scott D, McBoyle G, Minogue A (2007) The implications of climate change for the Québec ski industry. Glob Environ Change 17:181–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts (2005) Snowmobile association of Massachusetts. Cited 17 February 2005
  56. Southwick Associates (2006) The economic contribution of active outdoor recreation. Outdoor Industry Foundation, Boulder, ColoradoGoogle Scholar
  57. Suthey Holler Associates (2003) Community-based ATV tourism product model pilot project. Suthey Holler Associates, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  58. United States National Assessment Team (2000) Climate change impacts on the United States: the potential consequences of climate variability and change. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  59. US Army Corps of Engineers (1956) Snow hydrology. US Army Corps of Engineers, Eugene, OregonGoogle Scholar
  60. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (2003) Outdoor report for January 16, 2003. Cited 20 February 2006
  61. Wolfsegger C, Gossling S, Scott D (2008) Climate change risk appraisal in the Austrian ski industry. Tourism Review International (in press)Google Scholar
  62. World Tourism Organization (2003) Climate change and tourism. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism. Djerba, 9–11 AprilGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

Personalised recommendations