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A new report says climate change could negatively affect the winter tourism industry if lawmakers don't take action. Photo: ORDA
A new report says climate change could negatively affect the winter tourism industry if lawmakers don't take action. Photo: ORDA

Climate report paints bleak picture for winter tourism

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A new report says climate change has had a negative impact on the winter tourism industry in the U.S. and the problem will get worse unless politicians take action.

The report, released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Protect Our Winters, shows that 38 states have lost about $1 billion and 27,000 jobs as a result of decreased snow fall. Its authors say the outlook will get worse if state and federal lawmakers don't take steps to address the causes of climate change.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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"There's no doubt that climate change is real and it's impacting our industry," Chris Steinkamp, POW's executive director, said in a phone conference last Thursday.

Steinkamp's organization is trying to mobilize the winter sports community to fight climate change.

Steinkamp said his organization brought professional skiers and snowboarders to Washington last year to lobby Congress to act on legislation to curb climate change. He said athletes paint a "clear picture" of how warmer weather is impacting winter sports.

"But the response from senators from both sides was, 'Great. Thank you. But can you tell us what the economic impact is in my state when it doesn't snow? I really need to know this before I can think about climate legislation,'" Steinkamp said.

So Protect Our Winters joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council to "place a value on winter," according to Steinkamp. The resulting data shows that winter tourism is a $12.2 billion industry in 38 states. For the 2009-10 winter season, New York state's winter tourism industry supported more than 14,000 jobs and generated $846 million.

This new report shows that winter temperatures are projected to warm by four to 10 degrees Farenheit by the end of this century. It predicts that the length of the Northeast's "snow season" could be cut in half.

University of New Hampshire researcher Elizabeth Burakowski co-authored the report.

"In many of the U.S. states that rely on winter tourism, climate change is expected to contribute to warmer winters, reduced snow fall and cause shorter snow seasons," Burakowski said. "This spells significant economic uncertainty for a winter sports industry that's deeply dependent on predictable and heavy snowfall."

Aspen Ski Company Vice President Auden Schendler said the report should serve as a call to arms for winter tourism industry leaders.

"This data suggests that there's a monetized risk, and the solution should be for the ski industry leaders and trade group leaders to get off their [rear ends] and move as if this were an existential threat to the business," he said.

Antonia Herzog is assistant director of NRDC's Climate and Clean Air Program. She said the Obama administration can take steps to curb climate change by placing more emission controls on existing power plants.

"The president can do this," she said. "We don't actually need Congress and legislation immediately. The president has the authority to do this. And we all - especially, I would argue, the snow tourism industry - need to raise our voices together and call on President Obama to take action on climate change now."

Many ski industry leaders have already taken steps to adapt to changing weather patterns. In the Lake Placid region, tourism leaders rebounded from a tough 2011-12 season by getting creative and attracting visitors with activities that weren't dependent on snow.

Herzog said that doesn't mean nothing should be done to try to slow down climate change.

"And we do still have time to avoid the most severe impacts, and it is upon us to do so," she said. "Either we have no snow left, or at least we have some snow left and some of these resorts are there and continue to operate. Adaptation and preparedness do need to be done."

Ted Blazer is president and CEO of New York state's Olympic Regional Development Authority. ORDA operates winter sports venues in and around Lake Placid. In a recent interview with North Country Public Radio, he said ORDA has taken steps to be more energy efficient.

"You can't ignore things that happen," Blazer says. "I'm sure there are cycles I can't explain but what we're trying to do is get ourselves in a position where we can react to changes in temperatures. And when we do things, do things more efficiently, more effectively, and quicker."

Responding to the report, North Country Congressman Bill Owens said Congress needs to develop environmental policy based on fact, not "misinformed ideology." He said in a written statement that natural areas like the Adirondack Park need to be protected for future generations.

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