Societal Dimensions: Current Research

Impacts of Climate Change on the Economic Viability of Selected PNW Ski Areas

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Warmer winter temperatures projected under climate change imply later opening and earlier closing dates for ski areas. Shorter ski seasons can have a significant impact on the economic viability of ski resorts. This study examines the economics of shorter ski seasons.

Increasingly ski areas are turning to artificial snow-making in an effort to increase skier days and hence profitability. Depending on the location of the ski area, artificial snow-making may not be economically viable. Snow-making requires large amounts of water; it takes 139,322 gallons of water to make an acre-foot of snow. The amount of machine made snow needed is, of course, based on the topography of the ski hill and rate of melt. A ‘typical’ ski run of 200 feet wide with a drop of 1,500 feet would take three acre feet of water (55 tanker truck loads) to make one foot of snow.

A review of ski areas across the nation indicates that capital costs for snow-making vary between $10,000 and $20,000 per acre to be covered. In addition, maintenance costs can be as much as 25% of the resort’s total operating costs.

Ski areas whose ski season will be significantly affected by global warming may need to turn to artificial snow-making to remain economically viable. If the resort has affordable water available then snowmaking can be economically be used to extend the season. For those ski areas that don’t have sufficient water availability, the future will mean coping with shorter ski seasons.

Selected Ski Areas That Use Snow-making

Name Base Elevation (feet) Top Elevation (feet) Skiable Acres Snow making Lifts
Snowshoe Mt. (WY) 3,250 4,848 215 100% 14
Sun Valley (ID) 5,750 9,150 2,054 78% 18
Snow King (WY) 6,237 7,808 400 50% 6
Deer Valley (UT) 6,570 9,570 1,750 29% 19
Brighton (UT) 8,755 10,500 850 20% 8
Schweitzer (ID) 4,000 6,400 2,500 16% 8
Park City (UT) 6,900 10,000 3,300 14% 14
Canyons (UT) 6,800 9,990 3,624 4% 15
Crystal Mt. (WA) 3,912 7,012 2,300 2% 10

Research Questions

Selected References

For publications on the societal dimensions of climate impacts and adaptation in the Pacific Northwest, please see CIG Publications.