Intrawest Resort Holdings is a business that will be significantly affected by climate change. Intrawest owns and/or operates six ski resorts, as well as real estate and a helicopter skiing operation. Intrawest’s ski resorts are Steamboat (Colorado), Winter Park (Colorado), Mont Tremblant (Quebec), Blue Mountain (Ontario), Stratton Mountain (Vermont), and Snowshoe Mountain (West Virginia).
Ski resorts may the industry most immediately affected by climate change. According to a study by Daniel Scott at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, half of the 103 ski resorts in the Northeast will not be able to sustaining a 100-day ski season by 2039 (under certain forecasts). He believes that by 2039 no ski resort in Connecticut or Massachusetts will be financially feasible, and only 7 out of 18 resorts in New Hampshire and 8 out of 14 in Maine will be. The resorts in the higher mountains of the West will suffer as well. In the Colorado Rockies, temperatures are expected to rise as much as 7 degrees by 2100, causing Park City to lose its snowpack and Aspen’s snowpack to be limited to the top 25% of the mountain.
Climate change has certainly already negatively impacted Intrawest’s snowfall and financial results in recent years, and will continue to impact its business going forward. Intrawest discloses this risk in its 10-K: “The effects of climate change, including any impact of global warming, could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.” However, the company has not put forth public statements on mitigating this threat to their business. Yet, coverage of the ski resort industry tells us that there are two main mitigation strategies Intrawest is likely pursuing.
The first mitigation strategy is snowmaking. According to the New York Times: “resorts big and small are combating the trends [climate change] with bigger investments in snow making ($8 million worth at Squaw Valley and neighboring Alpine Meadows in the last three years [article from 2014]).” In fact, artificial snowmaking now contributes to snow cover at 88% of American ski resorts. However, according to Porter Fox, author of Deep: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow: “Snowmaking is not the answer…It’s a stopgap measure to keep the ski resort industry from collapsing.” Furthermore, snowmaking is very expensive and uses tremendous amounts of energy and water.
The second mitigation strategy is diversifying into non-skiing activities. These fall into two buckets: winter activities to supplement skiing and off-season activities to generate year-round revenue. For example, Washington School House, a high-end boutique hotel in Park City, Utah, now offers 18 winter sport activities, including bobsledding, zip-lining, yoga, hot-air ballooning, and therapeutic soaks. Diversifying into summer activities can include golf, waterparks, and sports which utilize the chairlifts, such as mountain biking and downhill carts.
I believe ski resorts are pursuing the right general strategy to mitigate the negative impact of climate change. However, rather than adding new activities in what appears to be a scattered and improvised fashion, I would sketch out a holistic vision of what the winter resort – not the ski resort – of the future looks like. Then, I would build a plan for how to transform from today’s resort to this resort of the future in a staged and financially realistic manner. Rather than muddling along, these resorts need to have a vision and detailed execution plan for transforming into the winter resorts of the future.
 Katharine Q. Seelye, “Rising Temperatures Threaten Fundamental Change for Ski Slopes,” New York Times, December 12, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/us/climate-change-threatens-ski-industrys-livelihood.html, accessed November 2016.
 John Branch, “As Snow Fades, California Ski Resorts Are Left High and Very Dry,” New York Times, November 23, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/sports/skiing/as-snow-fades-california-ski-resorts-face-a-brown-future.html, accessed November 2016.
 Porter Fox, “The End of Snow?” New York Times, February 7, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/08/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-snow.html, accessed November 2016.
 Evelyn Spence, “The High-Tech Fight to Save California Skiing,” Bloomberg, March 6, 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2015-03-06/fake-snow-real-money-the-high-tech-fight-to-save-california-skiing, accessed November 2016.
 Simon Hudson, “Diversification is the Key for Ski Resort Hotels,” HotelExecutive.com, accessed November 2016.