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March 1, 2013

Shrinking Snow Impacts Ski Industry

The 2011-2012 winter season was the fourth warmest on record for the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Colorado saw only half its average snowpack, making it the worst ski season in 20 years. The number of skier visits nationwide dropped by 15 percent.

Mark Williams, a snow hydrologist at the University of Colorado, has been studying the effects of climate change on future snowpack. His forecasts showed that snowlines — elevations below which snow won’t develop — will move up more than 2,400 feet from the base of Aspen Mountain. His team has also predicted that if carbon emissions stay the same, average temperatures will climb by nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit at Aspen by 2030 and 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

But the problem is advancing quicker than expected. March 2012 delivered “essentially no snow,” he said, adding, “It was the lowest snowfall here in Boulder on record. So there’s reason to be concerned.”

The NewsHour’s Science Team recently examined the impact of climate change on winter sports, specifically skiing and snowboarding as an installment in the Coping with Climate Change series. See the full report here.


“You don’t know if you’re going to have good snow. You don’t know if it’s going to come early or late, or if the spring is going to become warm, or the season is going to end prematurely. We just don’t have that dependability anymore.” Chris Davenport, World Champion Skier.

“When you have a lower than average snowfall winter, you’ve got about $800 million dollars of unrealized revenue in the United States, and it can cost the U.S anywhere between 13,000 and 27,000 jobs.” Elizabeth Burakowski, University of New Hampshire.

“We knew that our work showed that snowmelt is going to start earlier, and that we’re going to start to lose some of that late season snow. But it didn’t look like it was going to really be a problem until 30 or 40 years in the future.” Mark Williams, University of Colorado.

Warm up questions

1. Have you ever been skiing or snowboarding? If so, what part of the country to visit?

2. What is climate change?

3. How does snow form?

Discussion questions

1. Do you think warmer temperatures and shorter winters impact snow accumulation? Why or why not?

2. Why do ski resorts make snow?

3. What do you think can be done to reverse climate change?

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