Sleigh bells ring, are you listening…
Every holiday season, millions of avid skiers and snowboarders eagerly await the start of their favorite winter pastime. As ski resorts prepare for opening weekend, the anticipation for the thrill of laying the first tracks on fresh powder is palpable. During the most recent ski season, North American resorts saw a combined 73.4M visit . Yet, despite this excitement, the ski industry is directly threatened by the consequences of climate change.
Climate change has led to warmer winters, less predictable snowfall, and shorter seasons. Experts predict that 70% of the snow in the Alps in Europe could disappear by 2100 . Some U.S. ski resorts could face 50% reduction in season lengths by 2050 due to changes in snowfall . Vail Resorts, owner of 14 ski resorts, operates over 42,000 skiable acres and is taking measures to combat the unpredictability of their seasons driven by climate change through artificial snowmaking . Today, artificial snowmaking helps cover 88% of America’s ski resorts .
In the lane, snow is glistening…
Artificial snowmaking requires sourcing and delivering a significant volume of water to resorts, managing when and where to create snow, and monitoring the efficiency and efficacy of the system. Vail Resorts receives water from multiple sources; the company has ownership interests in nearby water reservoirs in Colorado and long-term agreements with state utility companies in Utah. Given growing demand for snowmaking, Vail Resorts has also diversified its water sources to ensure adequate supply. For example, Heavenly Resort’s snowmaking output rate is sometimes limited by the capacity and speed of delivery by its suppliers – state utility companies; as a result, Vail has purchased water rights to develop on-mountain underground wells for additional supplies .
While snowmaking has allowed Vail to control for unexpected weather patterns, its reliance on water resources has led to the emergence of new risks, such as potential future changes to legislation around water usage and rights. In 2012, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) filed and won a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service to against a directive to transfer of water rights on Forest Service lands to the federal government .
In addition to sourcing the delivering the necessary water and energy for snowmaking, Vail Resorts has also developed a sophisticated operations team and systems to manage the endeavor. Heavenly Resorts employs a 38-person team to decide how much, when, and where to make snow. The team is constantly monitoring the outside temperature and humidity in addition to the air pressure and water flow of its equipment. Impressively, the team has a maximum output rate of 1 foot of snow over 43 acres in 12 hours under optimal conditions .
Vail Resorts has also taken further measures to combat its own environmental impact by investing in sustainability initiatives to reach zero net emissions by 2030. Further, the company claims that 80% of the water used in snowmaking is returned to the environment. Longer term, Vail Resorts has invested in summer programs and activities to diversity its revenues, hopefully decreasing its reliance on the winter season; last year, the company launched summer programs to three more resorts in addition to the existing summer business at Whistler, Park City, and Stowe.
A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight…
Vail Resorts can further explore opportunities to improve its snowmaking operations and invest in new technologies for creating artificial snow. For example, newer and more efficient snow-guns can use less water, and better monitoring technologies can more rapidly detect and repair any leakages, thereby minimizing valuable water resources. The resort can also substitute snow with dirt for some of the construction of its freestyle terrain to reduce water needs . Furthermore, Vail Resorts could consider proactively investing in research for technologies to enable snowmaking in higher temperatures, such is the endeavor of researchers at Norway’s SINEF Institute . While snowmaking helps Vail manage predictability and summer programs diversifies the company’s revenues, Vail Resorts can also invest in extracting more revenue per skier visit by growing ancillary services to combat the shortening seasons, such as activities for non-skiers, more dining options, and expanded offerings at the ski school.
…Walking in a winter wonderland 
Do you think its justified to use water- and energy-intensive snowmaking operations to combat short-term unpredictability of climate change?
Do you think the skiing industry should even survive in the face of the increasing severity of climate change given its direct impact on its local ecosystem (e.g., vegetation, animal life, forestry)?
 Vail Resorts Inc., 2017 Annual Report, http://investors.vailresorts.com/annuals.cfm, p. 6, accessed November 2017.
 Jess Shankleman, “Alpine Snow May Shrink 70% by 2100,” Bloomberg News, February 16, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-16/it-s-snow-go-for-skiers-by-2100-as-climate-change-hits-the-slope, accessed November 2017.
 Cameron Wobus et al., “Projected climate change impacts skiing and snowmobiling: A case study of the United States,” Global Environment Change Vol. 45, July 2017, http://www.sciencedirect.com/sci ence/article/pii/S0959378016305556, accessed November 2017.
 Vail Resorts Inc., 2017 Annual Report, p. 4-5.
 Porter Fox, “The End of Snow?,” New York Times, February 7, 2014, https://nyti.ms/2ob54VF, accessed November 2017.
 Vail Resorts Inc., 2017 Annual Report, p. 18.
 Ann Zimmerman, “Water Fight Hits the Slopes,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar 2012, via ProQuest, accessed November 2017.
 Evelyn Spence, “Fake Snow, Real Money: The High-Tech Fight to Save California Skiing,” Bloomberg News, March 6, 2015, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2015-03-06/fake-snow-real-money-the-high-tech-fight-to-save-california-skiing, accessed November 2017.
 “Facts on Snowmaking,” National Ski Areas Association Website, http://www.nsaa.org/media/248986/snowmaking.pdf, accessed November 2017.
 SINTEF, “A future for skiing in a warmer world,” ScienceDaily, February 2017. www.science daily.com/releases/2017/02/170201093251.htm, accessed November 2017.
 Tony Bennett, Winter Wonderland.