Brief Industry Background
Climate change has resulted in warmer winters and ultimately less snowfall, resulting in a condensed winter season. For certain industries, such as the ski resort business, global climate change directly impacts viability given inconsistent and reduced snowfall. The Aspen Skiing Company, which owns four ski areas in Colorado, is proactively addressing climate change through several initiatives directed towards increasing the lifespan of its threatened industry. However, these initiatives are largely reactive and a large portion of the damage has already been done. Reduced snowfall results in fewer winter sports enthusiasts and ultimately a weaker operating environment for the Aspen Skiing Company.
Impact of Climate Change on Industry
Widely diverging weather patterns have largely increased the variability of snow conditions across the United States. Historical warming has already strained the industry by increasing the frequency of warm winters. 2015 marked the second warmest year on record in the United States with Western Mountain snow packs hitting record lows. Record low snow packs have led to a decline in overall rider visits to mountain resorts. According to the National Ski Areas Association, total visits for the 2014-15 season declined 3.8% to 53.6 million visits “from the 5-year industry average of 55.7mm skier visits”. Ultimately, the negative economic impact of such declines are far more expansive than the financial results of companies like The Aspen Skiing Company. Such declines impact the economies that have developed surrounding such resorts, translating to increased strain on local businesses.
Industry Initiatives to Combat Reduced Snowfall
Increasing warming trends in the norther half of the United States have forced the Aspen Skiing Company to adapt to decreasing mountain snowpack levels. Snowmaking is obviously the most proactive measure taken by ski resorts to combat variability in snowfall. While this is an effective approach, snowmaking “come[s] as a $500,000 expense annually and consumes up to 50 percent of resort energy costs”. While this may appear as environmentally burdensome, roughly 80% of water consumed in snowmaking returns to the watershed. Additionally, increased technology surrounding snowmaking has increased the overall efficiency through measures, such as installing water coolers and increasing volumes by using highly efficient snow-guns.
The Aspen Skiing Company has made a pledge to sustainability, ultimately promoting the long term viability of its business. It employs such practices as greenhouse gas reductions, renewable energy procurement, water conservation, resource efficient transportation and waste reduction to enable its longevity. Notably, The Company invested $5.5mm in a partnership to capture waste methane from nearby coalmines to produce enough energy to cover Aspen Skiing Company’s annual energy usage. In an effort to prevent emissions, the hydroelectric Snowmass Power Plant was installed, using water from snowmaking ponds. Such efforts taken by the Aspen Skiing Company simultaneously improve the operational efficiency of its resorts while dedicating resources to environmental sustainability. These measures ultimately increase the long term viability of its operations as the Aspen Skiing Company faces the daunting pressures of climate change.
Further Measures to be Taken
The Aspen Skiing Company can only do so much to limit the long term impacts of climate change. Warming trends directly impact the long term viability of its operations and further measures must be taken to combat these trends. It must further develop year-round resort offerings to create a more diversified revenue stream. No longer can the vast resources of such resorts lay dormant in the summer. Additionally, such resorts may consider moving to a single peak model. While limiting the overall ridable terrain, mountains can increase operational efficiency by blowing snow and limiting lift operations to only one peak. Furthermore, these organizations must dedicate themselves to long term sustainability measures while establishing new environmentally friendly industry norms. While this is an industry facing tremendous headwinds, I believe there are potential measures that can be taken to increase the long term viability and sustainability of such operating models.
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 “State of the Climate: National Overview for Annual 2015.” NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Jan. 2016. Web. 4 Nov. 2016. <http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/national/201513>.
 National Ski Areas Association. Skier Visits Dip Slightly to 53.6 Million in 2014-15. National Ski Areas Association. 4 May 2015. Web. 2 Nov. 2016. <http://www.nsaa.org/media/242270/Kottke_press_release.pdf>.
 Burakoswki, Elizabeth, and Matthew Magnusson. “Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States.” (2012). The Natural Resources Defense Council, Dec. 2012. Web. 2 Nov. 2016. <https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/climate-impacts-winter-tourism-report.pdf>.
 “Facts on Snowmaking – National Ski Areas Association.” National Ski Areas Association. Web. 2 Nov. 2016. <http://www.nsaa.org/media/248986/snowmaking.pdf>.
 Kaplan, Mike. “Environmental Policy.” Aspen Snowmass. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <https://www.aspensnowmass.com/we-are-different/programs-and-practices/environmental-policy>.
 “Green Operations.” Aspen Snowmass. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. <https://www.aspensnowmass.com/we-are-different/programs-and-practices/green-operations>.