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North American ski industry could collapse due to climate change: study

Skiers and snowboarders are sliding down the main slope at Mont-Tremblant. (Getty Images)

Parts of the ski industry in Ontario, Quebec and the northeastern United States could be wiped out if aggressive climate targets aren’t reached, a new study has found.

Research conducted in collaboration with the University of Waterloo, the University of Innsbruck in Austria and Sport University in Beijing, determined that only 66 of the 171 ski areas analyzed would be economically viable by the 2050s in a high emission scenario where nothing is done to address climate change.

“The future of our multi-billion dollar ski industry depends on our climate choices,” Daniel Scott, the executive director of Waterloo’s Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“If we do not achieve the Paris Agreement, in the latter half of the century, only high-elevation areas of the Vermont and New Hampshire and select ski areas in Quebec will be able to maintain a 100-day season and open regularly over the Christmas-New Year holiday.”

The study looked at 171 ski areas in Ontario, Quebec and northeastern U.S., including New York, New Hampshire and Vermont. The northeastern U.S. represents between 21 and 24 per cent of the U.S. ski market, while Quebec and Ontario combine to represent 54 per cent of the Canadian market. The three markets represent a $2.1 billion market altogether.

The average baseline season length in the ski season is 117 days in Ontario, 137 days in Quebec and 121 days in the U.S. northeast. In a low emission scenario – where the emission targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement are met – all three regions are projected to see the ski season decline by between 12 and 13 per cent cent by the 2050s. In a high emission situation – referred to in the report as a “business-as-usual scenario” – the ski season would decrease in the 2050s by 21 per cent in Ontario, 15 per cent in Quebec and 22 per cent in the U.S. Northeast.

With shorter ski seasons, many ski areas would no longer be economically sustainable. The study measured economic viability as the ability to be open during the Christmas and New Year period, and have seasons last 100 days or more. Quebec is the most resilient region in the study, with 90 per cent of ski areas able to remain economically viable even in a high-emission scenario by the 2050s. In the same scenario, 30 per cent of the northeastern U.S. area and just six per cent in Ontario would be economically sustainable.

“Warmer winters projected by mid-century will accelerate the financial challenges for ski areas in the three regional markets,” the report said.

“In total only 66 of the 171 ski areas (35 in Quebec, 26 in the US Northeast, and 2 in Ontario) are able to achieve both economic indicators under the high emission scenario, indicating the potential for substantial losses of operating ski areas and a transformation of these markets as early as mid-century.”

At the same time, demand for machine-made snow is expected to increase across the three regions. For example, Ontario ski areas would need to boost snow production by 179 per cent by the 2050s in a low-emission scenario, and 256 per cent in a high emission scenario.

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