While corporate support and a growing snow making industry are likely to secure the future of the Winter Olympics, climate change has the potential to nudge currently viable ski resorts off the podium.
As competition for medals got under way in earnest at the Sochi Games during the weekend, a researcher at the Griffith Institute for Tourism (GIFT) spoke about the future impact of global warming on tourism industries built around skiing.
Professor Susanne Becken was part of a research team that assessed the potential impact of climate change on the ski industry in New Zealand and Australia in 2012.
“There are likely to be serious economic implications for businesses and tourism-dependent communities.
“Our findings show that on average climate change will reduce the natural snow which is available at all the sites in this study.”
The study, led by Dr Jordy Hendrikx at Montana State University, examined four key destination ski regions including two in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island and two sites in the Snowy Mountains in NSW.
The research was referenced last week in a news feature on the Winter Olympics in Nature – International Weekly Journal of Science. It considered the changes in natural snow at the four locations for three time periods, 1980-1999, 2030-2049, and 2080-2099.
At the Australian locations, it was estimated that snow depth would be between 57% and 78% of 2012 depths by the 2040s, and between 21% and 29% of current depths by the 2090s.
“When we considered the number of days with snow depth at each of the sites in the current climate, the lowest sites were only just achieving the generally accepted 100-day threshold for a viable industry.
“Our research forecasts Australian snow days will fall to between 81 and 114 per annum by the 2040s, and down to between zero and 75 days by the 2090s.”
At the Australian sites the number of snow days – days when snow depths are at or greater than the industry’s 0.30m standard – are currently between 94 and 155.
“These changes will have an impact on future potential Australia-New Zealand tourism flows.”
Professor Becken says diversification will be a key adaptation measure for winter sport destinations in the future.
“It is very important that the tourist industry understands how vulnerable destinations are to changes that mean destinations are no longer attractive in the way they were previously.
“This is crucial not only for the international tourist business involved but also for national economies with development goals that often depend on a healthy and growing tourism industry.”