Let it Snow?
Carving up the slopes on Alta’s pristine powder may prove to be a much more difficult pursuit toward the end of the 21st century with snowpack decreasing significantly over the past 50 years according to recent studies. Can they do enough turn the tide and help preserve Utah’s claim to “the greatest snow on earth”?
Climate change and Alta Ski Resort
As noted by the EPA , the last decade in the western US is the warmest on record. General warming trends lead to 1) less precipitation falling to the earth as snow and 2) snow melting more quickly.1,
These two factors combine to decrease the overall snowpack1 which can shorten the winter tourism season and lead to a decrease in topline revenue for resorts like Alta.1
Alta’s relatively high elevation buys them more time than many of their competitors, but with current trends, it may only be a matter of time before they start to feel significant pain.
What is Alta doing?
Alta acknowledges the impacts climate change can have on their business and has a five point strategy in place to address short and mid-term concerns.
1) Educating patrons and the public
Alta has established programs to educate guests and the public about the impact of climate change on winter sports and how they can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
2) Raise policy-maker awareness
Alta realizes that state and federal climate change legislation is critical for reversing warming trends. Alta and other Utah resorts have partnered with Rhode Island Senator Whitehouse to raise the profile of this issue in congress.
3) Advocate for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
Alta is among 108 ski resorts to sign the BICEP Climate Declaration. This calls on policymakers to confront climate change issues and take a deeper look at the economic implications of warming temperatures.7
4) Support science-based solutions to climate change (including renewable energy technologies)
While this is expressed as a key point to Alta’s strategy, I did not note any specific efforts they are currently pursuing to push this mission forward in public sources. I will address this as a potential area they can improve later in this response.
5) Invest in more efficient practices and technologies; measure and report emission reductions to stakeholders
Alta committed to a 20% carbon reduction goal by the year 2020. They annually report on their progress to stakeholders.5
What other steps can Alta take?
While Alta is focusing educational efforts on patrons and the general public as a whole, I believe the most important area of focus for their educational efforts should be on youth. The creation of school educational programs has the potential impact the attitudes of the rising generation.
Inorganic expansion further north
Some investors are betting that the establishment of resort further north will leave them as “the only game in town”8 when temperatures warm enough to severely impact the resorts further south. Some of Alta’s competitors have diversified the impact of weather variability by acquiring resorts further north. One example is Vail Resorts which announced a $1 billion deal in August 2016 to buy Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia as a hedge. Alta’s owners could consider investing in a similar manner.
Encourage entrepreneurship for science-based solutions
Investing and supporting the development of science based solutions is an area of their current strategy they can improve upon. In 2015, the U.S. Forest Service began a threat assessment study to help identify specific vulnerabilities in the intermountain west. Once results have been released, Alta’s PE/VC owners could consider setting up a climate change innovation lab or investing seed capital to support development of technologies that could target threats noted in this study.
Given the rapid impact of climate change and the large buy in from society as a whole needed to reverse the tide of climate change, is it worth significant investment by Alta and its PE/VC owners to try to preserve Alta’s current footprint or should they treat this as a depleting asset with a finite life?
Does Alta’s PE/VC owner have a social responsibility to continue to invest, even if they deem it to be not in their best economic interest?
 United States Environmental Protection Agency, “What Climate Change Means for Utah”, EPA 430-F-16-046, https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/climate-change-ut.pdf, accessed November 2017
 United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Climate Impacts on the Southwest”, https://archive.epa.gov/epa/climate-impacts/climate-impacts-southwest.html, accessed November 2017
 Alta Ski Area, https://www.alta.com/alta-environmental-center/our-efforts, accessed November 2017
 Sheldon Whitehouse (U.S. Senator – Rhode Island), “WHITEHOUSE HEARS FROM UTAH SKIERS, SKI INDUSTRY ON EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE”, https://www.whitehouse.senate.gov/news/release/whitehouse-hears-from-utah-skiers-ski-industry-on-effects-of-climate-change
 Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-16/saving-skiing-three-men-bet-big-on-climate-change-proof-resort, accessed November 2017
 Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865630269/Whats-the-impact-of-climate-change-on-Utah-Study-will-try-to-find-out.html, accessed November 2017