Mountain Research and Development
International Mountain Society
Utah, snowmaking, outdoor recreation, nature-based tourism, ski tourism, climate, temperature
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Climate change is a threat to ski resorts, the ski industry, and mountain communities that rely on ski tourism. Ski resorts may be able to mitigate some of the social and economic impacts caused by climate change with proactive adaptation strategies. Using historical weather data, future climate projections, and interviews with ski resort managers in Utah (United States), this research investigates the effects of climate change on ski resorts across the state. We examine temperature change at all resorts within the state from 1980–2018 and climate projections from 2021–2100 under different climate change scenarios (RCPs 2.6, 4.5, and 8.5). We also report on semistructured interviews with resort managers to provide insights into how resort leadership perceives the impacts of climate change, is implementing adaptation strategies, and is addressing barriers to adaptation. Many resorts in Utah are warming faster than global averages, and minimum temperatures are rising faster than maximum temperatures. By the end of the century, winter (December–March) minimum daily temperatures in Utah could warm an additional 6.0°C under the RCP 8.5 scenario near northern Utah resorts and 6.6°C near southern Utah resorts. Resort managers are concerned about shorter season lengths, shifting ski seasons, less snow cover, and poorer snow quality. Many resorts are already adapting, with the most common adaptations being snowmaking and diversifying outdoor recreation offerings (particularly during the summer and shoulder seasons). Barriers to adaptation reported by managers include financial costs, adequate water availability for snowmaking, and uncertainty about climate change projections. Climate change is already impacting Utah ski resorts, but adaptation practices can reduce the negative impacts to some degree at most resorts.
Emily J. Wilkins, Hadia Akbar, Tara C. Saley, Rachel Hager, Colten M. Elkin, Patrick Belmont, Courtney G. Flint, and Jordan W. Smith "Climate Change and Utah Ski Resorts: Impacts, Perceptions, and Adaptation Strategies," Mountain Research and Development 41(3), R12-R23, (28 September 2021). https://doi.org/10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-20-00065.1