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Climate Change And Its Impact On Ski Industry Tourism Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Tourism
Wordcount: 4826 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This essay talks about the presence of climate change and its impact on ski industry which is dependent activity on weather conditions. Global warming has been considered as a ‘mega risk’ and it has a tendency to be permanent and therefore it is extremely complicated to measure its outcomes. As Nicholls (2006) mentioned, climate change is nowadays strongly accepted by many world’s scientists and governments as an issue of tremendous alarm for the people worldwide. This essay considers different models of possible impacts of global warming on different parts of the world.

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Steyger and Mayers (2008) said that since the 1990s the likely dependence of snow tourism to climate change has received greater alertness in the media. Increasing number of authors focus on this matter as well as on the adaption strategies of ski resorts. This paper demonstrates that global warming is a problem which forced majority of ski resorts all over the world to respond to weather changes in order to survive. Essay talks about options that are available to ski resorts and brings on the discussion of their usage and their effectiveness. Ski resorts all over the world are likely to experience a loss of snow consistency and that is why supervision of ski regions has to be more conscious when it comes to future of snow conditions in their geography area.

Global warming’s impact on ski industry

Models of projected outcomes of global warming

Climate as well as the natural environment associated with weather change can likely to impact open-air leisure and tourism. Businesses linked to skiing industry are largely exposed to the projected impacts of global warming because skiing is an activity dependent on climate conditions. Bricknell and McManus (2006) considered that it is one of the first and the most visibly impacted industries by the risk of global warming worldwide. Folland et al (2001) as mentioned in Moen and Fredman (2007) stated that annual snow cover level in the northern hemisphere has decreased by approximately 10% since 1966 and also that previous decade was wetter and warmer compared to the prior 30-year period in whole Europe. Global warming has already affected and will most probably carry on with affecting physical and natural systems all over the world. As Moen and Fredman (2007) refered to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2001), the expected effects of global warming include a proposed boost of globally averaged outside temperature by 1.4 to 5.8°C between years 1990 and 2100 which would also possibly lead to sea level rise of 0.88m globally. ZAMG (2007) as cited in Breiling’s and Charamza (1999) found out that because of global warming the line of usual snowfall steadiness will raise by about 150 m of altitude per 1°C of warming. For better picture, low attitude ski resorts are those below 1800-2000 m and thus, the majority of ski resorts in the world. Not to mention Breiling’s and Charamza’s (1999) estimation that a 1°C rise in average temperatures with winter drought may reduce the duration of snow cover by 50% at altitudes in range of 1400 – 1600 m. For example, Moen and Fredman (2007) estimated that no more than 63% of the entire Swiss ski regions will be snow consistent once a temperature raise by 2°C, not to mention the impact in the worst case and thus, in increase of temperature by 5.8°C, taking to account IPCC’s model. If we link these few findings together, we may conclude that in the worst circumstances, the natural snow dependability will rise by 870m of altitude by year 2100 which would mean that ski resorts of altitude about 2000m may end up with as much snow as altitudes in regions about 1000m today.

Larsson (2003) concentrated his research on climate change adaption in Canada and the findings are very similar to of those in Europe. He used model of McCarthy’s (2001) research which estimated that global warming in Arctic land areas may become theatrical by year 2080. Summer temperatures would increase by 4.0-7.5°C, winter temperatures by 2.5-14.0°C. These numbers are even more. If these predictions are about to be fulfilled, it would lead to melting of permafrost, leading to soils with condensed bearing capacity in ice rich areas and active regions of irregular permafrost. Additionally as he found out, the global warming effects may decrease periods of extreme cold and on other hand increase frequency of extreme heat in North America. Growing sea levels and danger of rainstorm course, and thus danger of coastal flooding, variations in timing, regularity and severity of flooding linked to rainstorms are likely to become a reality.

Moen and Fredman (2007) mentioned that according to Mendelsohn and Markowski (1999), global warming would most likely have an effect on outdoor leisure in three ways in the future. These include accessibility of leisure possibilities throughout longer summer seasons and shorter winter seasons. The comfort in general, satisfaction of leisure activities and the quality of the leisure experience. These kind of changes will generate winners as well as losers as diverse sorts of outside recreation activities involve dissimilar climatic conditions. These outcomes are though generalisations that may be applicable at collective level, whilst it would expect large district and neighbouring variations between different tourism activities.

All of the above findings are alarming for winter tourism destinations and therefore managements of ski areas have to be very aware of possible impact of climate change on their ski spots as the snow is fundamental aspect of ski tourism.

Snow conditions as a key factor

Winter tourism is in many ways reliant on natural features such as terrain, elevation or vertical fall. On other hand, even more significant features are weather conditions, and thus temperatures, airstream and snowfall. With decrease in snow cover, whatever the terrain or vertical fall may be, it is almost impossible to develop any ski opportunities. More authors agreed that snow cover is a key variable for consumers to decide where to ski. Suggestions that impacts on global warming on winter tourism can be significant are apparent from research from different parts of the world. For example, Fukushima et al (2002) as expressed in Moen and Fredman (2007) formed the interactions connecting air warmth, rainfall, snow intensity and the amount of skiers at seven different ski resorts in Japan. They found out that the number of skiers decreased by 30% when temperature increased by 3-C. Godfrey (1999) found out that one of the most important aspects influencing destination choices of English skiers going to Canada is snow conditions. These findings strengthen an argument that snow conditions and snow cover may be regarded as the most important factor for any ski resort.

As discussed and illustrated before, the phenomenon of global warming may, and most likely will have a huge impact on snow conditions in mountains and ski areas and thus it will also have significant influence on businesses of new as well as matured ski destinations. Majority of them started to feel impacts of global warming and they are trying to find solutions in order to respond to weather changes so they have better chance to survive and keep their businesses alive. The question is, is all it possible even without not enough natural snowfall?

Adaption by ski industry

Artificial snow-making

Steiger and Mayer (2008) concentrated their research on Austria’s and Swiss’s ski industry and stated that technically created snow is the most used alteration approach for unusually hot winter seasons. Nicholls (2006) who researched climate change and its impact on outdoor tourism in Europe said that key technological alteration to snow absence is the implementation of artificial snow-making facilities. Moen and Fredman (2007) considered that the most general adaptation to snow-deficient winters in Sweden is also artificial snow-making. The practice of snowmaking is increasingly characteristic for the Australian ski industry too (Bricknell and McManus, 2006). Snowmaking may be used not only to influence ski season durations but also to reduce snow changeability throughout the season. This is viewed as an insurance policy for overcoming the unreliability of seasons and dealing with the potential impacts of climate change. Snowmaking could be considered short to medium-term adaptation approach, not just for low altitude ski destinations but as well as for financially strong year-round resorts at higher altitudes (Nicholls, 2006).

For instance, in Austria almost 60% of the ski areas are covered by artificial snow-making facilities (FSO, 2007 in Steyger and Mayer, 2008). But the distribution of snow-making cannot be related to global warming as trends in tourism, status, and competitive advantage are crucial features. Steiger and Mayer (2008) said that ski resorts are forced to build up snow-making capabilities with cost for their financial strength as warm winters are becoming more common than in the past. However the possible assistance of this machinery to the practicability of winter tourism destinations have yet to be formed by researchers as the significant expenditures are linked with this measure. For instance, approximately 27% of ski resorts in Switzerland have a reduced cash stream already and most do not seem to be viable without help (Seilbahnen Schweiz 2006 in Steiger and Mayer, 2008). Elsasser and Burki (2002) and Scott et al. (2003) as described in Nicholls (2006), stated that snowmaking amenities are costly to assemble and preserve, and need significant amounts of water and power to work. For that reason, many of the small and middle range ski resorts would not have enough money for the implementation of such technology.

Usage of snow-making technology

In preparation for the skiing season of 2006-2007 the Austria’s Tyrolean ski industry invested EUR 55 million in snowmaking, with EUR 270 million in overall investments even though, the past winter seasons had brought sufficient snowfall yet at lower elevations (Tiroler Tageszeitung 2006 as illustrated in Steyger and Mayers, 2008). This points out that while the operators observe climate circumstances as regularly too blurred and uncertain, they are well aware of global warming and are searching for adaptation strategies. Also, medium-term investment strategies are not tailored, as there is a lot of confidence in the improvement capacities of snowmaking machinery with a clear perceivable hole between weather change and economic investment phases (Mayer et al 2007 in Steiger and Mayer, 2008). As they mentioned, while the poor winter seasons at the end of the 1980s sparked artificial snowmaking in Tyrol, additional distribution was not related to weather unpredictability and global warming scenarios. On other hand, there is tendency to supply even naturally snow consistent ski resorts in high altitude areas higher than 2000m or in even 2500m with snow-making amenities. These elevations may be regarded as naturally snow consistent even in pessimistic global warming scenarios. As they said, snow-making amenities can be also used as promotion instrument to be a magnet for tourists, to build reputation and to maintain prices higher than it would generally be. These resources could perhaps be used in more sustainable way than just unnecessary usage of water wealth and other detriments of snow guns. Snow-making guns are not necessarily used in order just to make ski slopes usable for longer period of time. Main enthusiasm for the unique diffusion of snowmakers are that snowmaking should secure tourist capacity consumption, cable car companies’ revenues, and images of resorts in which domestic as well as international ski rivalry go on. Furthermore, it ought to guarantee broad environment for teaching and exercising of winter sports.

How is global warming related to diffusion of snow-making facilities? Austria’s case is different as there are many high-altitude ski resorts but Bricknell and McManus (2006) interviewed CEOs of three different ski resorts in Australia on this issue. CEOs assured that snowmaking technology may help to negate projected climate change impacts. The CEO of one resort suggested that, under global warming, snowmaking conditions may be unaffected or even improved because drier colder nights are good for snow-making which would assist the long term viability of the industry. The CEO of second resort noted that snowmaking is a necessary investment regardless of the potential impacts of climate change due to current consumer demands on the industry. CEO of third resort however, argued that global warming could have significant impact on artificial snow-making as this technology still depends on climate conditions and thus it still would not necessarily overcome the issue.

Global warming and artificial snow-making

Global warming may influence snowmaking in few ways. Decrease in natural snowfall would require more snowmaking; increase in average temperatures would decrease the length and amount of possibilities and boost the expenses of making snow; and variations in rainfall may distress the water supply for snowmaking (Scott et al., 2006 in Moen and Fredman, 2007). Analyses in North America have exposed that artificial snowmaking can significantly lessen the pessimistic outcomes of climate change but only if the temperature stays adequately low (Scott, 2006; Scott et al., 2006 in Moen and Fredman, 2007). Nicholls (2006) stated that artificial snow-making needs certain climatic surroundings, as for example minimum temperatures to be met and hence, this system may in several circumstances be prohibited beside the increase in warmth related to the global warming.

The most important thing about snow-making is that snow guns and their usage are limited by weather conditions (Steiger and Mayer, 2008). High-quality snow can be accomplished with snow creation starting below -6°C at average humidity. On top of that, snowmaking conditions are prejudiced by warmth and wetness; if the air is wetter, lower temperatures are required. With recent snowmaking tools snow can be produced below -5°C.

Fliri’s (1974) weather tables as expressed in Steiger and Mayer (2008) demonstrate a strong connection between -2°C daily average temperature and -6°C daily lowest temperature (Nicholls, 2006). Days reaching the threshold of -2°C daily average temperature are defined as prospective snowmaking days with best snowmaking conditions. Additionally, snowmaking is only considered realistic if it can poise out the loss during snowmelt. Therefore for majority of low-altitude ski resorts this strategy does not patch up the issue of global warming for long term and they have to start to look for other strategic options in order to overcome the problems of peak season shortness and falling visitor numbers as a result of climate change.

Moen and Fredman (2007) adopted from Burki et al (2003) some other adaption strategies ski resorts may consider. Apart from snow-making, resorts could concentrate on different activities in order to fulfil consumer requirements and to survive on competitive business market.

Slope development and operational practices

At active ski areas, slope expansion alterations consist of: slope contouring, landscaping, and the defence of glaciers. Contouring or flatting ski slopes could be grooming slopes in the summer season to eliminate rocks or shrub vegetation, to reduce the snow deepness needed to operate and represent a cost saving approach for snowmaking (Scott and McBoyle, 2007). Land contouring can also be used to capture snowmelt and top up snowmaking tanks during the winter. Strategic placing and planting of tree cover can capture moving snow and to some extent gloom ski slopes, which would reduce snowmelt and snowmaking needs. Additionally to the adjustment of already operating skiable environment, the expansion of new skiable terrain in climatically privileged sites is generally cited as an alteration to climate change. The development of north facing slopes, which retain snowpack longer, is one strategy too. As Scott and McBoyle (2007) realised, more authors agreed that expansion of ski areas into higher elevations, with generally more reliable snow cover, where a longer ski season is possible, seems to be one of the key climate change adaptation strategies considered by ski area operators in the European Alps. Thirty six ski areas in Austria were awaiting authorisation to develop their operations into higher elevations in 2002- 2003. Wolfsegger et al. () as illustrated in Scott and McBoyle (2007) said that expanding to higher elevations was the third most favourite global warming adaptation choice by Austrian ski area managers, after snowmaking and sharing snowmaking costs with the accommodation industry.

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Nicholls (2006) also agreed that strategy of development of higher altitude ski resorts is option that tends to be of favour for existing ski resorts. Large ski corporations over smaller, family-owned businesses tend to use this strategy. Although, such improvements would present a host of ecological and safety concerns which the industry would need to deal with in order to uphold the industry in a viable approach. These comprise bigger pressure from new production as well as improved waste creation. Also due to mountain terrain or height this strategy is in many cases impossible. Other option is to cooperate or expand into areas with more reliable snow which may on other hand diversify income structure of resorts. Scott and McBoyle (2007) said that high elevation mountain environments are particularly sensitive to disturbance and opposition from the public and environmental groups may pose a significant constraint on this adaptation strategy in some locations.

Marketing incentives and new product developments

Bricknell and McManus (2006) suggested that many resorts use strategy of flexible ticket pricing policy and thus reducing ticket prices in order to attract more skiers. Scott and McBoyle (2007) mentioned that ski companies have already begun to experiment with incentives or guarantees to overcome skiers’ reluctance to book a ski holiday because of uncertain snow conditions. In the winter of 1999-2000, for example, the American Skiing Company promised visitors to its six New England region ski resorts a 25% reduction on their next vacation if the ski area failed to open 70% of their ski runs during the Christmas-New Year holiday period. Warm temperatures that season forced three of the six resorts to pay customers rebates (Keates, 2000 in Scott and McBoyle, 2007).

Another strategy could be to develop non-snow related activities in winter or to become all season destination as more choices could attract more tourists and it could bring other benefits. All year round tourism could be developed by providing climate independent tourism such as conference or educational tourism. Nicholls (2006) mentioned that the building of conference amenities combined with the contribution of a broad variety of outside leisure activities during the seasons may provide resorts with a balanced, constant source of revenue that is less dependent on weather conditions. On other hand, the expansion of such substitutes needs an primary lay out of funds which may go beyond the capabilities of smaller ski businesses.

Over the past three decades, many ski areas in North America have diversified their operations beyond traditional ski activities to include the provision of skiing and snowboarding lessons, accommodation and retail sales (Scott and McBoyle, 2007). The Economist (1998) referred to the alteration of major ski resorts in North America from ski areas to winter theme parks, as the ‘Disneyfication’ of the winter sports industry (Scott and McBoyle, 2007). Non-skiers represent an important market at ski resorts. Williams and Dossa (1990) estimated that 20-30% of visitors to ski resorts in Canada did not ski during their visit (Scott and McBoyle, 2007). They also pointed out that in season 1974-75, lift tickets stood for almost 80% of profits for the usual ski area in the US. Nowadays, lift tickets stand for not even than half the profits, as other activities have risen in significance. Therefore to diversify the market and also to decrease the pressure of demand on ski lifts, this strategy seems to be very supportive for existing ski resorts with capabilities to do so.

Many ski resorts have made substantial investments to provide alternate activities for non-skiing visitors. For example snowmobiling, skating, dog sled-rides, indoor pools, health and wellness spas, fitness centres, squash and tennis, games rooms, restaurants, retail stores and many others. Moen and Fredman (2007) agreed, developing alternatives to skiing during winter is well recognised strategy to overcome falling visitor numbers into ski areas; however he pointed out, that it is also problematic as many of these alternatives are reliant on snow conditions or ice-covered lakes and thus dependant on climate conditions.

All year round tourism

The most promising strategy in order to completely overcome the problems of global warming may be to develop all-year round tourism. Moreover, offset pessimistic financial effects as of global warming, such a strategy would as well have optimistic public effects on conventional winter destinations as seasonal dissimilarity in employment prospects are bridged over. A number of ski resorts have further diversified their business operations to become ‘four season resorts’, offering non-winter activities such as golf, boating and white-water rafting, mountain biking, paragliding, horseback riding and other business lines. At many larger resorts, real estate construction and management has also become a very important source of revenue. On other hand, as Bricknell and McManus (2006) stated, the development of summer tourism needs long term preparation in order for them to develop appreciation in this market. The resorts will have to contend with each other and with summer destinations such as coastal locations, which would be in many cases very tough, especially where coastal summer tourism takes place. The expansion of tourism into the summer season in sequence to support or to swap snow tourism may also direct to environmental conflicts. Activities that resorts may want to promote, such as bike riding and horse riding, could unintentionally leak out into regions of preservation where they are forbidden. These kinds of activities are also known to worsen environmental issues, such as erosion and the spread of exotic species. If these forms of tourism increase in popularity, the carrying capacity for these mountain destinations must be re-evaluated to encompass their potential impacts.

Role of public sector

The public good characteristic of climate change creates complicated challenge for financial and political organizations. The lack of an unchanged weather is not connected to growing prices and is not necessarily measured to the top valued consumers. To maintain well-organized policies, inputs from financial estimations of global warming impacts are essential. Such financially viable measures consist of direct economic impacts to the economy as well as benefits to the contributors. For instance, Scott et al. (2002) as described in Scott and McBoyle (2007) used spending records to present approximation of the possible economic impacts from g oobal warming on skiing in Canada, whilst Richardson and Loomis (2005) calculated the effects of climate on motivation to pay to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. Many authors put some efforts to place an economic value on global warming impacts to tourism and outside leisure. For example, as Scott and McBoyle (2007) said, Meier (1998) approximated the cost of global warming for the ‘4 season’ tourism in Switzerland at USD 1.1 – 1.4 billion by the year 2050.

Scott and McBoyle (2007) said that better weather forecasting would make available an enhanced foundation for risk assessments and tactical business choices, as well as the timing of seasonal openings or when to begin artificial snowmaking. Negotiations with ski operators in eastern North America propose that the industry does not presently use seasonal forecasts in their operational decision-making and substantive enhancements in forecasting accurateness would be necessary before these products would achieve a level of realistic value for the ski industry. Some ski operators yet think about five to seven days forecasts as too untrustworthy for operational decision-making and applied forecasts from different countries or classified services instead of governmental forecasts (Scott and McBoyle, 2007). Announcements to the community through the media could be a further aspect of forecasting that could be improved in some areas. Ski operators occasionally have adversarial interaction with a number of neighbouring media for the reason that of what they recognise as inaccurate exposure of weather conditions and forecasts that they disagree cost them business (King, 2005 in Scott and McBoyle, 2007). Government support to the ski industry has taken place in the variety of discounted energy costs, long-standing leases of communal lands and infrastructure fundings, but the industry has not gained from the kinds of backing programs offered to other climate-sensitive trade sectors such as for example, sponsor harvest insurance for the agriculture sector. In the future, skiing based tourism economic losses consequential from unpleasant climate circumstances may be adequate for government concern and support in some cases. Government participation in the ski industry’s prospect could perhaps take a number of forms. Direct involvement could come throughout financial assistance, cover support or marketing proposals. Ultimately, government policies linked to land and water use, and energy and revenue spending could impact skiing operations positively. Government financial assistance for snowmaking was greatly supported by Austrian ski area managers, whilst government assistance for financial losses because of poor winters was only to some extent supported (Wolfsegger et al, 2005 as demonstrated in Scott and McBoyle, 2007).


This essay discussed the problem of global warming and its projected impacts on ski industry all over the world. It demonstrated that climate change is broadly accepted as a mega risk, particularly for businesses dependant on weather conditions. Numerous ski resorts, especially those that are established at lower elevations could face serious problems if climate change forecasts are about to be accurate in the future. Among limited supply of downhill ski resorts, coupled with an existing high demand for the activity, it would possibly lead to yet other remarkable increase in prices and environmental pressures.

Ski resorts have several strategy options to consider when it comes to problem of not sufficient snow cover in their geography area. Some tend to use artificial snow-making facilities, some aim to diversify their business portfolio by offering a new products and developments of new tourism attractions. The most promising strategy to overcome global warming problem, as regarded by few authors, was to become an all-year round tourism destination. However, all of these adaption strategies tend to go hand in hand with the issue of sustainability which should be taken more seriously as all developments take place in extremely sensitive environments.

The essay demonstrated that adaption strategies are increasingly used already by ski resorts in many parts of the world and that sometimes these are not even related to global warming. The most commonly used adaption strategies are not without ecological and financial costs. Water usage from natural water bodies can lesser water intensities and influence fishing harmfully. Power needs are high as well and inversely linked to warmth, and will thus sustain higher expenditure the warmer the temperatures get. By means of this type of disorder of demand to ski regions with higher altitude, ecological loads upon the nearby environments would be enlarged. This paper only fairly points out issues that come along with new developments and expansions of ski regions and these should be further discussed and analysed.


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