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Climate change caused by greenhouse gases (GHGs) has long been a concern of snow-dependent industries, as changes in snow and ice are predicted to be some of the first effects of a warming climate (Barry et al., 2007; Lemke et al., 2007; Armstrong and Brun, 2008). Changes to snowpack can impact a range of commercial activities from water resource management to ski area operations (Tegart et al., 1990; Watson et al., 1996; National Assessment Synthesis Team, 2000; McCarthy et al., 2001; Barry et al., 2007; Lemke et al., 2007). For example, several studies have analyzed the effects of potential climate change on ski areas and winter tourism, and all of the studies have projected negative consequences for the industry (Galloway, 1988; König, 1998; Hennessy et al., 2003; Scott et al., 2003, 2007, 2008; Scott and Jones, 2005; AGCI, 2006; Climate Impacts Group, 2006; Nolin and Daly, 2006; Agrawala, 2007).
The ski tourism industry in Utah is an important part of the regional economy, generating an estimated 19,323 jobs and $416,936,054 in total earnings of Utah’s workers in the 20052006 ski season (Isaacson, 2006). Given the importance of the Utah ski industry and the dependence of that industry on snow, climate change impacts to snowpack at Utah ski resorts can have a significant impact on the regional economy in the future. Moreover, understanding how climate change may affect snow conditions, such as snow coverage and depth, can help Utah ski area managers plan for the changes to mitigate their adverse effects.
In this study, we used climate, snowpack, and economic models to estimate how the duration and quality of the snowpack at the Park City ski area, in the Wasatch Mountains of north central Utah, may change in the near and more distant future under climate changes caused by GHG emissions, and how the regional economy could subsequently be impacted because of changes in winter tourism. Climate in the Park City area in the years 2030, 2050, and 2075 is predicted under several different scenarios of GHG emissions using several different global climate models coupled with regional and statistical climate models. The predicted Park City climate is then used to predict the length of the ski season, the timing of snowpack buildup and melt, and daily values of snow depth and coverage from the bottom to the top of the mountain.
We estimated skier days in 2030 and 2050 using an observed statistical relationship between snowpack characteristics and skier days in the near past. We then estimated the relationship between skier days and total economic output, earnings, and jobs in the Park City region using economic models. Lastly, we estimated the total economic impact of climate change on the ski industry as the change in skier days times the economic impact per skier day.
Our study predicts that Park City’s climate will change substantially as a result of increased atmospheric GHG concentrations. Temperatures are predicted to rise and precipitation amount, timing, intensity are predicted to change. As a result, total snowpack and snow coverage will be reduced, the ski season will be shorter, and less of Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) will be skiable. The impacts to snowpack are more severe further in the future, and under scenarios with higher GHG emissions.
Our economic modeling results indicate that projected decreases in snowpack will have severe economic consequences for the Park City region. By 2030, the estimated decrease in snowpack is estimated to result in $120.0 million in lost output. This lost output is estimated to result in an estimated 1,137 lost jobs and $20.4 million in the form of lost earnings (or labor income). By 2050, the potential impacts range from $160.4 million in lost output, $27.2 million in lost earnings, and 1,520 lost jobs (low emissions scenarios) to $392.3 million in lost output, $66.6 million in lost earnings, and 3,717 lost jobs (high emissions scenario).