There is a multi-billion-dollar market that is clearly on the chopping block given implications of global warming – alpine skiing. Few industries’ performances are so overtly tied to weather as ski resorts. For many resorts in north America, the entire ski town makes a living not just on the lift tickets, but also the restaurants and gas stations in the community rely on tourists to keep their businesses in the black. Whistler Blackcomb, the largest ski resort in North America, is leading the charge for this industry in preparing for the impacts of climate change and taking an active role in shaping the future to improve its outlook for all ski resorts in North America.
Weather volatility has been a problem for seasonal business since the dawn of seasonal businesses. So what makes climate change an issue that needs to be addressed now? Scientists have identified high altitude areas to be the most susceptible to climate change compared to low lying areas. For example, For Collins, CO, which is at 5,003 feet above sea level, experienced an average temperature increase of 4.1 degrees whereas a comparably located city at sea level had a 0.5-degree average temperature rise year over year [http://cier.umd.edu/climateadaptation]. Given Whistler Blackcomb’s peak elevation of 7,992 feet above sea level, it is most likely going to be impacted before the rest of society feels the pain of global warming. Thus, Blackcomb Whistler needs to take control of their own destiny in regards to preparing for global warming impacts and leading the way in a broader industry effort to combat global warming politically.
Being one of the larger resorts with capital to deploy, Whistler Blackcomb has been adapting their business for global warming implications since the mid-2000’s. In 2008, the resort connected its two major peaks to provide increased access to the upper parts of the mountain, which have colder climates and thus better snow conditions longer then the lower elevation portion of each mountain. This project cost 51 million dollars and showed Whistler Blackcomb’s dedication to maintaining a large amount of skiable terrain. Although this move is reactionary in nature, it was a quick win for the resort and showed the shareholders and skiers alike that this resort was dedicated to its operations.
In addition to focusing on what the resort is predominately known for, Whistler Blackcomb released a 345-million-dollar master plan earlier this year that outlining other ways the Canadian resort will grow and insulate the business from weather caused volatility in the future. Mainly, this master plan painted a picture of Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort becoming a four-season destination. With amenities such as a mountain coaster and an indoor water park that will have “waterslides, a deep-water surf simulator, cliff jumping, rock climbing, a wave pool and bowling” [ http://www.macleans.ca ] By building up the non-winter infrastructure now, the resort is positioning itself well to financially whether the bad weather that may be unavoidable in the future.
While these measures are steps in the right direction, I would develop a task force to evaluate how the potential change in weather patterns could affect potential acquisition targets for new ski areas. Moving the lift equipment would be no small task, but there is an opportunity to identify what used to otherwise be unattractive land becoming more attractive now that the weather patterns are changing. As a 20-30 year plan, I would have an ongoing team evaluating the cost benefit of expanding the resort one or two peaks north from its most northern point to potentially take advantage of improved weather conditions at adjacent peaks that have higher elevations. In addition, I would defer the expansion costs by shutting down the lowest elevated terrain of the current mountain, and relocate the lift equipment to the newly expanded, higher elevation area that will have better snow and temperature conditions.
Overall, Whistler Blackcomb is in a relatively good position to succeed amidst the unknown gravity of impact climate change is causing. By investing in their winter sports offering through new ski lifts and developing a master plan to become a successful four-season destination, the resort is leading by example for the ski industry how a company can prepare to dampen the ambiguity of climate change.
- “Environment”. Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. 2016. Company Website. November 2016
- Sorenson, Chris. “How snowless ski resorts are adapting to climate change”. Maclean’s. April 2016. Web. November 2016 <http://www.macleans.ca/economy/business/how-snowless-ski-resorts-are-adapting-to-climate-change/>
- Williamson, Sean. “Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Colorado”. University of Maryland. July 2008. Online Paper. November 2016. <http://cier.umd.edu/climateadaptation/Colorado%20Economic%20Impacts%20of%20Climate%20Change.pdf>
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