Skip to main content

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

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  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 25–60

  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, Norwich

    Google Scholar 

  3. Associated Press (2006a) Mild weather claims another winter event. http://www.wstem.com. Cited February 2006

  4. Associated Press (2006b) Where snowstorms are desired. Some parts of Northeast suffer because of snowless winter. http://www.cnn.worldnews.com. Cited 17 February 2006

  5. Badke C (1991) Climate change and tourism: the effect of global warming on Killington, Vermont. Thesis, University of Waterloo

  6. Behringer J, Bürki R, Fuhrer J (2000) Participatory integrated assessment of adaptation to climate change in Alpine tourism and mountain agriculture. Integrated Assessment 1:331–338

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bicknell S, McManus P (2006) The canary in the coalmine: Australian ski resorts and their response to climate change. Geographical Research 44:386–400

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bloomfield J, Hamburg S, Heller N et al (1997) Global warming and Northeast’s White Mountains. Environmental Defence Fund, Washington

    Google 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 June

  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):4–14

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Brown R, Braaten R (1999) Spatial and temporal variability of Canadian monthly snow depths, 1946–1995. Atmos–Ocean 36(1):37–54

    Google 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, Toronto

  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, Seattle

    Google Scholar 

  14. Cherkauer K, Bowling L, Lettenmaier D (2003) Variable infiltration capacity cold land process model updates. Glob Planet Change 38:151–159

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Clean Air–Cool Planet (2002) Fact sheet – global warming threatens Northeast’s ski industry. http://www.cleanair-coolplanet.org/information/pdf/ski-factsheet.pdf. 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, Toronto

    Google Scholar 

  17. Dritschilo G (2006) Winter washout – unusually mild weather cancels events in the region. http://www.rutlandherald.com. 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):335–339

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Elsasser H, Bürki R (2002) Climate change as a threat to tourism in the Alps. Clim Res 20:253–257

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Erickson J (2005) Changes in the air, part 3: bleak forecast for the ski industry. Rocky Mountain News, 19 March. http://rockymountainnews.com. Accessed 25 August 2005

  21. FAST (2005) Trail grooming – 101. http://fastsnowclub.org/trails101.html. 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 7:173–189

    Article  Google 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, Melbourne

    Google Scholar 

  24. Gates A (1975) The tourism and outdoor recreation climate of the Maritime Provinces. Environment Canada, Ottawa

    Google Scholar 

  25. Goodman J (2005) Battered ski area sweating for snowfall. Seattle Times, 27 October

  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):52–73

    Article  Google 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):12422–12427

    Article  Google 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

    Article  Google 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, Australia

    Google 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, Geneva

    Google Scholar 

  31. International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (2006a) International snowmobile industry facts and figures. http://www.snowmobile.org/pr_snowfacts.asp. Cited 18 October 2006

  32. International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (2006b) Snowmobile facts book – snow trails. http://www.snowmobile.org/snowmobilefacts.asp. Cited 14 February 2006

  33. Johnstone K, Louie P (1983) Water balance for Canadian climate stations. Report DS#8-83. Environment Canada, Toronto

    Google 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 Zurich

  35. König U, Abegg B (1997) Impacts of climate change on tourism in the Swiss Alps. J Sustain Tour 5(1):46–58

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Lake County Forest Preserves (2005) Snowmobiling. http://www.lcfpd.org/preserves. 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, Ottawa

    Google Scholar 

  38. Lipski S, McBoyle G (1991) The impact of global warming on downhill skiing in Michigan. East Lakes Geographer 26:37–51

    Google Scholar 

  39. McBoyle G, Wall G (1987) The impact of CO2 induced warming on downhill skiing in the Laurentians. Cah Geogr Que 31(82):39–50

    Google 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, Canada

    Google 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, UK

    Google Scholar 

  42. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2005) Record warm winter in much of Midwest and Northeast; drought worsens along eastern seaboard, NOAA reports. http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories/s878.htm. 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, Colorado

    Google Scholar 

  44. Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (2006) Trail conditions, January to April 2006. http://www.ofsc.on.ca/trails/trails.asp. 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, Maine

    Google 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 June

  47. Scott D (2005) Global environmental change and mountain tourism. In: Gossling S, Hall CM (eds) Tourism and global environmental change. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  48. Scott D, Jones B (2005) Climate change and Banff: implications for tourism and recreation – executive summary. Banff, Alberta, Canada

  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, Canada

    Google 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, Canada

    Google 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 23:171–181

    Article  Google 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):376–398

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Scott D, McBoyle G, Minogue A (2007) The implications of climate change for the Québec ski industry. Glob Environ Change 17:181–190

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts (2005) Snowmobile association of Massachusetts. http://www.sledmass.com. Cited 17 February 2005

  56. Southwick Associates (2006) The economic contribution of active outdoor recreation. Outdoor Industry Foundation, Boulder, Colorado

    Google Scholar 

  57. Suthey Holler Associates (2003) Community-based ATV tourism product model pilot project. Suthey Holler Associates, Toronto

    Google 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 York

    Google Scholar 

  59. US Army Corps of Engineers (1956) Snow hydrology. US Army Corps of Engineers, Eugene, Oregon

    Google Scholar 

  60. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (2003) Outdoor report for January 16, 2003. http://www.dnr.state.wi.us. 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)

  62. World Tourism Organization (2003) Climate change and tourism. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Climate Change and Tourism. Djerba, 9–11 April

Download references

Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel Scott.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Scott, D., Dawson, J. & Jones, B. Climate change vulnerability of the US Northeast winter recreation– tourism sector. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 13, 577–596 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11027-007-9136-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Recreation
  • Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Tourism
  • Winter sports
  • Snowmaking