August 20th, 2019

Climate Change: How It’s Hurting Winter Sports


On the eve of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Vermont Law School will host a panel discussion about how climate change continues to jeopardize the winter sports industry, both globally and in New England. The symposium on “Brown Slopes, Bare Trails” will be held from 12:45 to 2pm on Thursday, Feb. 6, and include a climate scientist as well as ski operators and snowmakers from New England.


The negative economic impact of climate change on winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and other outdoor recreation that depends on snow is well documented.


According to a report published last month, only 11 of the past 19 Olympic host cities will be “climate reliable” by mid-century, and Sochi will not be an option by 2050 (“The Future of the Winter Olympics in a Warmer World,” University of Waterloo, Management Center Innsbruck, and Interdisciplinary Centre).


Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a report detailing “radically divergent weather patterns” and how “unpredictability and lack of snow can translate into a precipitous fall in revenue, an early economic indicator of what climate change looks like.” This is grim news for many U.S. states where winter tourism is big business, adding an estimated $12.2 billion to the U.S. economy annually.


This year, the impact of rising temperatures on winter sports has already been felt in Vermont, where some ski areas have been forced to temporarily close due to lack of snow, turning away skiers and boarders who annually spend upwards of $700 million in the state.


In response, Vermont Law will host “Brown Slopes, Bare Trails: The Impact of Climate Change on Winter Sports.” The panel discussion will include co-author of the NRDC report, Elizabeth Burakowski, Ph.D.; Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association; Ian Jarrett, vice-president of HKD Snowmakers, a Massachusetts company that manufactures and supplies energy-efficient snowmaking technology; and Michael Hussey, director of Rikert Nordic Center at Middlebury College.


“Since 1970, average annual temperatures in New England have been increasing by 1 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit, with the greatest warming occurring in winter,” said Burakowski, citing data from the U.S. Historical Climatology Network. “The number of days with minimum temperatures below freezing has decreased by one to two weeks, and our coldest nights of the year are getting warmer.”


Burakowski added that “Lakes are icing out earlier in spring, and the number of days with natural snow cover has decreased by one to two weeks. All of these climate indicators point to a changing character of New England winters that threatens ecosystem health and our multibillion-dollar winter tourism industry.”


“Brown Slopes, Bare Trails” will be held at the Chase Center on the Vermont Law School campus. Presented by the VLS Sports Law Institute and Environmental Law Center, the event is free and open to the public and press.


“The Sports Law Institute and the Environmental Law Center are pleased to join forces and present a thoughtful conversation about the consequences of climate change for winter sports enthusiasts and the winter sports industry,” said event moderator Professor Brian Porto, director of the Sports Law Institute. “Panelists will address the science of climate change, the challenges of a warming planet for operators of recreational facilities, and the environmental implications of a growing reliance on artificial snow.”

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