Climate change could have a significant impact on areas of Canada that depend on ski tourism, such as Ontario and its surroundings

According to a recent report that simulates the effect that carbon emissions could have on ski resorts, by 2080 the 60 Ontario ski resorts would be economically unsustainable.

The study, published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism at the end of 2019, assessed the number of days that ski resorts in Ontario, Quebec and the Northeast of the US could open together with their ability to produce artificial snow, as global temperatures rise.

A study to determine the impact of climate change

Daniel Scott is president of the University of Waterloo, director of the Master’s program in Climate Change and one of the co-authors of this recent study. He believes that the duration of ski seasons could fall between 12 and 21% by 2050, depending on how much temperatures rise. In relation to the Ontario area, Quebec would do better according to this report, thanks to its colder climate and the greater elevation of its terrain.

Scott and his team projected the average duration of the ski season in 2050 and 2080 based on both low and high warm-up scenarios.

“If we look at the long term in the last decades of this century, there would hardly be a regional market compared to what we have now”, said Daniel Scott.

The ski stations in Ontario and Quebec are already feeling this change with shorter seasons and a greater need for artificial snow.

While the worst case scenario is not good for many areas, Scott’s simulations project that 46% of Quebec’s ski resorts could still reach the economic bar required in six decades. They would still have slopes ready for action during the crucial Christmas and New Year holiday season for at least 100 days.

Meeting the Paris climate goals of an increase of less than 2°C in global temperatures by 2050 could save many of the Ontario and Quebec ski areas, according to this report.

Climate change with a great rise in temperatures. Source: Prairie Climate Center
Climate change with a great rise in temperatures. Source: Prairie Climate Center

Moving against climate change efforts

Climate change activist and vicepresident of sustainability at Aspen Skiing company, Auden Schendler, argues that the ski industry must take a much stronger approach to environmental protection.

The sector must be aware of its fragility and discuss this as has been done in other countries. At the moment, the ski industry is responding to climate change by trying to reduce its carbon footprint. That need made Schendler consider how the most substantial projects could reduce carbon emissions and be replicated elsewhere.

That is why they partnered with the owners of a coal mine an hour away from Aspen. His intention was to capture methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, which escapes from the mines to the atmosphere.

This methane from the coal mine feeds the station’s generators. Since 2012, that gas has been redirected and used for generators that pump three megawatts of electricity to the state’s power grid.

“That’s enough to manage our entire complex. There are four mountains for skiing, 18 restaurants and three hotels throughout the year,” said Schendler.

These kinds of initiatives will be fundamental for the survival of these business models in a greener way.

The cities that live on skiing will live a great economic turn

Daniel Scott says that not only outdoor enthusiasts will feel the impact of climate change in Canada. Also communities built around ski tourism will be strongly affected.

When the excessively hot temperatures of 2007 delayed the opening of the Blue Mountain ski resort, more than 1,300 employees were temporarily laid off.

Tracks in Ontario with barely any snow. Source: Daniel Scott
Tracks in Ontario with barely any snow. Source: Daniel Scott

“It’s like closing a manufacturing plant in a city. Many politicians overlook the importance of tourism in our economy. In many communities it is a great employer during all times of the year”, said Scott.

Scott and Schendler hope that higher-altitude ski resorts can still thrive by the end of the century. What worries them the most in these cases is that skiing becomes an elite activity aimed only at the richest.

Schendler expects further progress for the good of the planet. He says his work on skiing is satisfactory, but his work against climate change in Canada is what he considers most important.