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Skiers, Resorts Adapt to Uncooperative Winter Seasons

Despite the abundant snow in the Midwest and Northeast this year, recent seasons have been milder. As a result, snow sport interest groups have been looking at ways their industry can adapt their businesses in uncooperative seasons.

One such group is Protect Our Winters, an organization that defines itself as "the environmental center point of the global winter sports community, united towards a common goal of reducing climate change's effects on our sports and local economies."

The group was founded by a professional snowboarder, Jeremy Jones, in 2007.

"I spend time in Europe every year, and just seeing, in Chamonix for example, you have this famous glacier that's a very well-traveled ski run," Jones said. "As I started coming back a year later realizing that I used to be able to snowboard [where I stood] and to see this receding glacier."

Jones also visited a former resort in British Columbia that was unable to continue its operation because of repeated winters without enough snow. Experiences such as these inspired him to use his clout to bring attention to the struggles that milder winters present to athletes and businesses.

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In conjunction with The Mountain Collective, a collaboration of six major Western ski resorts that provide shared passes to skiers and snowboarders, Protect Our Winters stated, "fewer ski days would not only reduce enjoyment for skiers, boarders and other winter sports enthusiasts, but also cause significant economic impact to an industry that supports 965,000 people and contributes $66 billion to the U.S. economy alone."

In recent years, many resorts have been feeling those economic impacts. This year's snowfall has been a welcome relief to North American resorts that have been struggling the past few seasons, but many in the winter sport community are wary that more mild winters may be in the future. Low snow amounts for some resorts in Europe provide a wider image of ski conditions on a global scale.

"Southeast Europe had less snow than normal [this year]," said Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls. "There was also a lack of snow from England to France and western Germany. These areas were stormy but lacked the cold for snow."

Porter Fox, features editor of Powder Magazine and author of DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow, said that he's encountered residents in the West who say that for many years they have just not been seeing the snow they were once used to. With extreme to exceptional drought holding tight to much of the area, manmade snows have been relied on to help keep many trails open.

Ski resorts are also adapting to winters that receive below-normal levels of snow by increasing the type of activities available at these locations.

"I think the industry is engaged in adaption in a serious way, both in terms of snowmaking, but also in terms of offering experiences to guests on a year-round basis," said Mike Kaplan, president & CEO of Aspen/Snowmass.

Offering mountain biking trails, hiking opportunities, horseback riding or other summertime activities is giving resorts an opportunity to make up revenue lost in mild winters.

"We did have a couple tough years," Kaplan said. "We were really waiting for it to start snowing again. It was a relief to get into the summer season where we're going to spin those lifts either way because we're going to have our mountain bikes trails open."

Others are being more conscious of their energy spending, both for economic and environmental reasons.

Jerry Blann, president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, said that his community in the northwestern part of Wyoming is very aware of the challenge ahead of them. With Wyoming's largest industry being energy production and tourism, Blann said that state congress is lobbied from what he sees as conflicting sides of economic and environmental focuses.

For his resort, Blann said that they are aiming to have a 10 percent reduction in their energy uses from 1995 to 2015.

"At the end of the day, I'd say that's what mountain people are all about; we're used to having to adapt to whatever Mother Nature is going to give," Kaplan said.

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