Where's the Snow!?! The Impact of Snow - or Lack Thereof- on the Winter Sport Industry

No snow in the backyard = no interest in traveling for snow sports.

It's the first week of February and as I sit here in Brattleboro, VT I can still see patches of dead leaves, grass, and branches under what is maybe an inch of snow. As a homeowner I'm thrilled we haven't had to break out the snow blower yet, but I can't help but think how the late snowfall will impact the nearby ski resorts that so many businesses and families depend on. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire have found that attendance at New England ski areas is more influenced by snowfall in Boston than at the resorts themselves. The phenomenon is known as the "backyard effect", and has a real impact on New England ski resorts in years like this one where the snow is late and infrequent in the early months.  No snow in the backyard = no interest in traveling for snow sports.

A study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council reports that 38 states in the US receive some sort of benefit from skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling and that it accounts for $12.2 billion in annual economic value to the US economy. This economic value is a result of nearly 60 million skier and snowboarder visits and 14.5 snowmobile trips in 2009-2010, supporting nearly 212,00 jobs, along with $1.4 billion in state and local taxes and $1.7 billion in federal taxes.

The map below illustrates the employment in winter tourism in each of the states. Colorado has the most with over 37,800 employees in this industry, followed by California with nearly 24,000.   In the northeast, New York has the highest employment related to winter tourism (14,627 jobs) followed closely by Vermont (13,417 jobs).


Employment Supported by Winter Tourism

Image Source: Natural Resources Defense Council – Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States. 

Years when there are low snowfall amounts can have a significantly negative impact on the communities that depend on the tourism associated with the ski industry.  Vermont, for example, loses 9.5% of skiers between high and low snowfall years. Among eastern states, New Hampshire has the largest variation between high and low snowfalls years (17%). This decline in visitors results in a loss of tens of millions of dollars for regional economy. 

In an industry so heavily dependent on natural resources and weather conditions it is hard to imagine what an economic developer can do to support its viability, but there are a few things that can help:

  • Many resorts are developing other amenities as a way to bring in more visitors and encourage more spending. For example spas, restaurants, lodging, bars, and other package deals to entice the whole family to the resort. Economic developers can work with the resort to help connect restaurants (consider whether a smaller version of a local restaurant could locate in the ski lodge), local food producers (highlight local foods throughout the resort), hotels (package deals or transportation services) to the resort and help find ways to encourage partnerships.
  • Another way economic developers can help winter resorts remain viable is to support their efforts to be a year-round destination. For example, there may be opportunities for mountain biking, disc golf, alpine slides, zip lining. All of these types of improvements will cost money and may require special permitting. As an economic developer it is important to support these efforts to help the resort be successful and continue to benefit the community.
  • To mitigate the "backyard" effect economic developers can help with promotion to get those who live away from the mountain get in the winter sport spirit. Use social media to highlight snow fall or snow making, generate earned media in regional newspapers to highlight what's new, and develop other efforts that will help spread the word and remind those skiers what they are missing.
  • And, if all else fails, wear your pajamas inside out and put a spoon under your pillow. It was on NPR, it must be true. 



 - "City Dwellers Look To Backyards When Deciding To Head To Slopes" http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/2007/dec/lw05slopes.cfm

-  "Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States" http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/files/climate-impacts-winter-tourism-r...

-  Snow Image source: https://getaway-vacations.com/blog/best-ski-resorts-in-vermont/


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