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Skiing is more than a well-loved winter hobby—it is also a driving component of many small economies in colder regions. But climate change is making it increasingly harder for ski resorts to function at their best. Without reliable snow, ski resorts and the economies they support will suffer. If a resort can’t rely on snow, they often turn to snowmaking—a costly process that uses significant amounts of electricity and water.

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A study by Robert Steiger examined a resort in the Tyrol region of Austria, analyzing how shifts in weather due to climate change could impact the ski industry located there. 15% of the economic revenue is generated by skiing, and as snowfall becomes less reliable, snowmaking will be needed to provide the necessary conditions.

First, Steiger introduced the possible effects that climate change is likely to bring (the region has already been seeing declines in snow since the 1980s.) A 2007 study found that as temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, the ski season in Austria is likely to be shortened by one month.

Steiger used a SkiSim model, which is a ski season simulation that assesses the impact of climate on snow, and predicts how much more snowmaking will be needed to make up for losses.

The model examines two types of snow: snowfall and snowpack. Snowpack is  built up over time, creating a hard, compressed layer. It’s an essential component to keeping ski resorts skiable for longer periods of time.

While the ski season simulation demonstrated that increased snowmaking could make up for the losses that climate change will create, the way forward isn’t clear cut.  Steiger writes: “[C]limate change is likely to destabilize the winter tourism system in the next decades. But, as several other factors influence supply and demand, the system’s resilience could be strengthened or weakened.”

A second study by Daniel J. Scott, Christopher J. Lemieux and Leslie Malone looked at how climate change will impact outdoor based tourism in general. “Weather and climate have a broad significance to tourist decision-making and the travel experience, significantly influencing travel patterns and expenditures worldwide.”

The authors outlined how weather and climate services can help to plan and adapt for an uncertain future. However, existing services need to be made more readily available and understandable, to encourage sustainable and profitable decision-making.

Improved communication between scientists and leisure and tourism specialists, like ski resort personnel, is needed for a sustainable future. “Climate-change adaptation is knowledge-intensive, and access to climate services will be an important prerequisite for successful adaptation in the tourism sector.

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Climate Research, Vol. 43, No. 3 (2010), pp. 251-262
Inter-Research Science Center
Climate Research, Vol. 47, No. 1/2, CR SPECIAL 25: Climate services for sustainable development (March 31, 2011), pp. 111-122
Inter-Research Science Center