What is happening to snow?
The facts are straightforward: The planet is getting hotter. Since 1970, the rate of winter warming per decade in the United States has been triple the rate of the previous 75 years, with the strongest trends in the Northern regions of the country. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000 . Given snow melts above 32 degrees Fahrenheit , the rise in temperatures is directly related to less snowfall each year. Aspen, now averages 23 fewer days below freezing each year than it did before 1980. If global action is not taken to reduce emissions, the average temperature here is expected to rise as much as 9 degrees by 2050 .
The warming trend spells economic devastation for a winter sports industry deeply dependent upon predictable, heavy snowfall . Not only are opening dates being pushed farther and farther back each year (Two major Colorado resorts delayed their opening last November because of warm temperatures ), but less snowfall means fewer and fewer tourists. As a result, the entire economies of Vail’s mountain resorts are tied to how much snow falls each year. If snowfall is not significant, very few people visit the company’s resorts and it loses the majority of the revenue stream it is dependent upon.
How Vail is Fighting Climate Change
Vail appears to be dealing with climate change primarily through adaptive methods. This is because in the short-term it is much easier (and cheaper) for Vail to limit their vulnerability to climate change impacts than to reduce climate change itself.
First, Vail has combated less snowfall by simply producing more artificial snow, evidenced by increasing levels of equipment expenditures each year . Unfortunately, snowmaking requires a large amount of resources (see picture below), including energy, labor and equipment, making it a very costly solution.
The second strategy which Vail has pursued is to make strategic acquisitions to diversify its geographic exposure to bad weather. Most recently, the company acquired Whistler Backcomb resort , located in Canada. Whistler Backcomb CEO David Brownlie mentioned, “Combining Whistler Blackcomb with Vail Resorts’ portfolio broadens the geographic diversity of our company with resorts across the United States, as well as in Australia and Canada.” So, what this means is that when snowfall isn’t great in Canada, consumers can head to Colorado and vice-versa since Vail has a pass which allows its customers to visit any of its resorts across the world.
Lastly, Vail Resorts has focused on becoming a multi-season mountain by diversifying the activities it offers. Specifically, the Vail website has a summer webpage, outlining a full summer activity guide, including scenic gondola rides, zipline tours, bike paths, and popular events. I see Vail’s strategy of selling itself as a destination with “something for everyone” similar to how Las Vegas was able to reposition itself from an adult playground to a family destination.
What Else Can Vail Do?
In 2013, 108 ski resorts signed a declaration that called for reduced energy consumption and deployment of clean energy technologies . So, beyond pursuing mitigation tactics which help limit their exposure to climate change, Vail should think about how it can be more active in conversations regarding climate change. This will help others become more aware of the issue and what they can do to combat global warming. Moreover, they should engage with federal policy makers to encourage more action on climate change.
Vail should also consider how it can become more energy efficient and reduce its own footprint on the environment. This could include strategies to reduce electricity and natural gas usage from snowmaking equipment, lifts and facility heating to decrease carbon emissions. If Vail is to encourage others to reduce their emissions, it should start by doing so itself.
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 Natural Resources Defense Council, “Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States,” [Online]. Available: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/climate-impacts-winter-tourism-report.pdf
 New York Times, “The End of Snow?,” [Online]. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/08/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-snow.html.
 Los Angeles Times, “Rocky Mountain resorts race to defend their businesses against climate change,” [Online]. Available: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-sej-mountain-climate-change-20150728-story.html
 Vice News, “Climate Change Could Decimate the American Ski Industry,” [Online]. Available: https://news.vice.com/article/climate-change-could-decimate-the-american-ski-industry
 Vail Resorts, Inc. “10-K,” [Online]. Available: http://investors.vailresorts.com/secfiling.cfm?filingID=812011-16-115
 WSJ, “Vail Resorts to Buy Whistler Backcomb,” [Online]. Available: http://www.wsj.com/articles/vail-resorts-to-buy-whistler-blackcomb-1470656971