A new report says the U.S. ski industry lost an estimated $1 billion and 27,000 jobs in the last decade because of warmer winter temperatures linked to climate change.
Tougher times could be ahead unless climate change is reversed, according to the report.
"Without intervention, winter temperatures are projected to warm an additional 4 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with subsequent decreases in snow cover area, snowfall and shorter snow season," the report warns.
The study, released last week, was conducted by University of New Hampshire researchers for a pair of environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Protect Our Winters.
Climate change's effects on skiing are of keen interest in the Durango area, and to some businesses and skiers in San Juan County.
Dalton Boyd, co-owner of End Industries, an Aztec ski rental shop, said ski seasons appear to shifting later in the calendar.
"From everything that I've seen and kind of looked at, it's more of seasons changing and just getting later and later," he said.
Experts caution that it's difficult to blame climate change for any one weather event or season. However, climatologists say climate change is likely to make the Four Corners drier and warmer over time.
Ski areas are beginning to respond.
Auden Schendler, a vice president at Aspen Ski Co., said the ski industry has a "fiscal responsibility to both understand climate change and respond at scale.
That should be the industry's highest priority."
Durango Mountain Resort has taken steps to reduce its emissions, including purchasing energy-efficient snow guns, providing shuttles for guests and employees and providing a paid incentive program to encourage employees to carpool.
"Durango Mountain Resort is aware of scientific studies and projections of potential long-term effects of climate change," spokeswoman Kim Oyler said in an email. "Weather has always and will always be a factor in the ski business. However, Durango Mountain Resort continues to pursue ways to conserve energy and water, and mitigate negative impacts to the forest and habitat."
The resort installed commercial laundry equipment, eliminating the need for a laundry vendor to drive to and from the resort, Oyler said. And it conducts an ongoing analysis of energy and water usage to find ways to improve.
Durango Mountain Resort also supported the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rule that would institute nationwide emission standards to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new coal- and gas-burning power plants, Oyler said.
This ski season has started slowly. Durango Mountain Resort opened Nov. 23 the Friday after Thanksgiving with only one run available.
Purgatory had by Friday opened more runs, totaling 9 percent of the mountain, but remains on a Friday-Sunday schedule. "Daily operation hours will resume when Mother Nature brings us more snow," the resort said on its website.
Wolf Creek Ski Area, east of Pagosa Springs, was 40 percent open but warned of packed powder and "early season obstacles."
Idled ski lifts translate into slower business for related retailers like End Industries.
"It's still a little slower than normal, but people are still going," said Boyd.
If this ski season doesn't improve, it could be devastating for the ski industry. Skier visits were down throughout the industry in 2011-12, as Colorado resorts saw their fewest customers in a decade.
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