Economic Impact of Climate Change on Ski resorts

I read some articles recently in the academic press on the impact of global warming on ski resort economies. The value of winter sports to Alpine nations is substantial – one study reckoned that roughly half of overnight stays in Austria and Switzerland are attributable to winter tourism. I am sceptical of their claim that is over the whole year, but together with associated economic activity, skiing is clearly a major source of tourist revenue for Alpine nations.

One study of a German ski area, expected the impact of global warming by 2040 to be as much as 30% fewer skiers and a hit of up to 56% on the local economy, exacerbated by an aging skier demography. The study used estimates of what it called the “100 day rule” and the “Christmas rule”.

A study of 208 ski areas in Austria is more positive, citing snowmaking capacity and adaptive in-season demand as factors in mitigating climate change, This study estimated an average season length losses being 10-16% through until the 2050s. However the study recognises that the impact will be disproportionate with lower resorts inevitably the most hard hit.

NE USA Resorts marked in blue that will not be viable by 2040

Some of the literature identifies mitigation strategies. A paper on the impact for package holiday tourists came up with these conclusions: “winter mountain holidaying is a highly segmented market. Even at a mountain destination strongly associated with skiing, there are many tourists who do not ski and spend their time doing something else”. Eating and drinking figure highly, particularly enjoying local cuisines.

Swiss resorts in particular have an advantage for retaining winter tourists even if there is unreliable snow. Many Swiss resorts have charm and history. Additionally many benefit from higher altitude and a range of winter activities that don’t require snow, – such as ice-skating, curling and spas. Events like Arosa Gay Week and the WEF at Davos illustrate examples of where skiing may not be the main focus for winter sports destinations, and people still find value in their visit to the mountains even if it does not provide an extensive skiing experience with any reliability.

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