Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Watershed Sciences

Committee Chair(s)

Patrick Belmont


Patrick Belmont


Peter Wilcock


Karin Kettenring


Increasing temperature and shifting precipitation regimes due to climate change are a significant threat to winter recreation. Some businesses such as high-elevation ski resorts are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. However, ski resorts may be able mitigate the impacts of climate change by proactively implementing adaptation strategies. The overall goal of this study was to investigate the impact of climate change on Utah ski resorts, and to understand adaptation perception, barriers, and strategies for different resorts across the state.

To meet that goal, we used a mixed-methods approach including examining temperature shifts at all Utah ski resorts 1980-2018 and climate change projections under RCP 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5 for 2021-2100, in addition to semi-structured interviews with ski resort managers. The interviews with resorts addressed how leadership perceives climate change threats and impacts, how the report is implementing adaptation strategies, and addressing barriers to adaptation. Since 1980, the minimum daily temperature has increased at all 14 Utah ski resorts, and at 12 of the 14 resorts the number of early season days with a minimum temperature at or below -5℃ (the temperature needed to make snow) has significantly decreased. Climate projections show that minimum temperatures are expected to rise during the prime ski season of December-March by up to 6.0℃ in Northern Utah and up to 6.6℃ in Southern Utah by 2100 under RCP 8.5. Resort managers are aware and concerned about the shrinking and shifting ski season especially with less snow and of a lower quality. Of the eight Utah ski resorts interviewed, most resort managers have already begun to implement adaptation measures such as diversifying winter and other season activities, increasing snowmaking capacity, and closing high-maintenance slopes. Resort managers face moderate to extreme barriers in adaptation including financial and water limitations. Utah ski resorts are already impacted by climate change and as the impacts become more severe, adaptation strategies will be needed to minimize negative impacts of higher temperature and lower quality and quantity of snow.

Included in

Life Sciences Commons