Economic Analysis of Water Resources and Ski Recreation

Project Dates

Less snow and shorter snow seasons are no longer just a nightmare for ski enthusiasts. Climate change models actually predict such dismal events, especially for locations at low elevations and low latitudes. So how does this impending change affect the local economies of snow-dependent communities within these vulnerable locations? This research sought to answer this question by investigating the likely impact of climate change on low latitude ski resorts in the southwestern United States.

The research was based upon a case study of Sunrise Park Ski Resort located in the White Mountains of Arizona. The particular case of the Sunrise resort highlighted two interesting features of climate change in the Southwest: the availability of water supplies to make manmade snow to compensate for reduced snowfall conditions, and the importance of tribal management. The White Mountain Apache Tribe’s Sunrise Park Resort is located at latitude 34° and at a relatively high elevation that ranges from 2,862 m to 3,385 m. Sunrise produces enough snow for just 10 percent of the skiable terrain. To put this into context, ski resorts in central Ontario, located at low elevations and high latitude, possess snowmaking capabilities for 100 percent of the skiable terrain (Scott, McBoyle, and Mills, 2003).

In addition to collecting detailed background information on climate change and ski recreation, snow depth data was collected and extrapolated using snowpack telemetry (SNOTEL) and snow course data for the White Mountains region. Data on manmade snowmaking technical and water requirements and costs was also collected. Researchers developed a model of snow depth as related to recreational visits and local economic activity.