chart_072913The following figures from Snowsports Industries America are some analysis of the most recent Northern hemisphere winter. The short message is that overall visitation to resorts is down slightly against recent years.

The report notes that “snowfall got a late start this season, really getting underway after the Christmas holiday. The lack of early season snow affected all snow sports except freeski and telemark.” With climate change predicted to increasingly impact on snow quantity, we keep getting glimpses of possible futures under global warming scenarios – of later and more erratic winters.

Here in Australia, we have had a very erratic winter so far, with good snowfalls being followed by heavy rainfall and warm conditions. In the VIC alps we lost almost the entire snowbase in mid July after solid falls early in the month. Just a few degrees in temperature can make all the difference to whether precipitation comes as rain or snow. And as the report Caring for our Australian Alps Catchments found, the Alps face an average temperature rise of between 0.6 and 2.9 degrees by 2050, depending on how much action the international community takes to combat climate change.

There are a range of reasons why people might ski or board, or do something else, and lift prices and overall costs of being in a resort is a big one. But poor snow conditions is another obvious one. Just ask anyone who manages accommodation in the Alps and they will tell you that snow falls correlate with booking trends. With less reliable snow, people are likely to do something else, or go overseas if they can afford to do so. Climate change impacts are a factor we ignore at our peril.

In the US there is a strong movement within the snowsports community which is working to encourage people and governments to act on climate change. Protect our Winters is the best known of these. You do have to wonder why the community here has been so slow to respond, and why we have so few prominent people speaking out? The one industry initiative Keep Winter Cool has dwindled off in recent years as resorts focus their attention on rebranding themselves as year round destinations. In climate change terms, this is called ‘adaptation’. But without ‘mitigation’ – action to reduce emissions, we seem doomed to the type of futures forecast in reports like Caring for our Australian Alps Catchments.