Climate change impacting Utah ski resorts, research finds how they’re adapting

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SNOWBASIN, UNITED STATES: This photo shows Snowbasin Ski Resort, Snowbasin, Utah, the site of the down hill skiing for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics, 18 February 2001. The run outlined in red will be used for the down hill race in the Olympics. The start of the run is just to the right of the peak. AFP PHOTO/George FREY (Photo credit should read GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)

LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) – Utah may be known for having the greatest snow on Earth, but the days to enjoy some deep powder are declining at ski resorts statewide. New research shows how these ski resorts are adapting may not be long-lasting.

Since 2018, the average low temperature during the ski season at the state’s 14 ski resorts has increased at least 2.6°C, and by as much as 6.7°C, according to newly published research from Utah State University. Researchers also found the number of cold days perfect for skiing has dropped in Utah. The state’s snowpack, snow quality, and the length of the ski season are also likely to decline.

The school’s Climate Adaptation Science Program reviewed the impacts climate change has on the resorts, the perceptions about it, and the adaptation strategies resorts are taking. In speaking with resort managers, USU researchers found main concerns include a shorter ski season, shifting the season timing, less snow on the ground, and worsening snow quality.

If you are planning to hit the slopes in Utah, don’t let that scare you. According to Utah State’s research, many resorts have already enacted measures to keep popular slopes open and revenue flowing, despite changing circumstances. Tactics include joining ski conglomerates, increasing lift capacities, and making artificial snow.

Unfortunately, researchers found the cost of implementing the strategies has been challenging, as is the lack of water for snowmaking, as well as uncertainty about the weather and climate projections. As of October 7, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports 87% of Utah remains under “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. It’s unclear how Tuesday’s rain and snow across Utah will impact that.

Additionally, researchers explain snowmaking is unsustainable – it can extend ski days in the short term, but lack of access to water, costs to maintain equipment, and the required worker effort pose challenges.

“Climate change will continue to increase temperatures at Utah ski resorts, which means more precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow,” says Emily Wilkins, lead author on the research, in a release from USU. “Although many Utah resorts have the ability to make snow, the proportion of the winter season where snowmaking is possible is also decreasing as temperatures warm.”

Other managers are working to offer more activities and recreation options outside of the ski season, like mountain biking and festivals.

Regardless, Utah State researchers say the climate in Utah “will likely warm dramatically, and, according to ski resort managers, it will have moderate to extreme impacts on resort operations.”

“Climate change will continue to impact resorts and their surrounding communities in significant ways, but adaptation measures may help resorts remain viable throughout the end of this century.”

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