CHALLENGE #5: WEATHER/CLIMATE CHANGE
“The weather factor will always be the challenge. It will not go away. It has been with the ski industry from day one.”
The challenge of changing weather and climate is perhaps the most emotionally charged and politically “hot” topic (pardon the pun) in our industry today. The issue of climate change is steeped in complicated science and political agenda, the combination of which nets an endless array of varied opinion and stymies productive conversation. That said, while the topic of climate change may be divisive, many of our survey respondents united behind the recognition that the weather has always been, and will continue to be, a primary challenge in our industry.
Perhaps the way to move the conversation forward, and strive to find effective opportunities, is to remove the science and the politics and focus instead on the familiar conversation: How do you respond to the unpredictability of the weather?
OPPORTUNITY: ADAPTABILITY AND RESILIENCE
Adaptability speaks to long-term structural shifts to address unpredictability and variability, while resilience addresses the on-going ability and capacity to respond and recover from weather events. When looking to the future, survey participants spoke to many strategies and tactics that fall under both of these concepts.
- Diversify into a broader four-season product. Appeal to a wider range of customers in a wider range of seasons and weather, and in the process become more resilient and able to respond to future changes in the climate.
- Organize operations and marketing to respond to shorter weather windows. Use cutting-edge equipment and technology to increase the immediacy of response.
- Where possible, design to allow skiers and snowboarders to get to higher elevations. For example, a tram, gondola or chair with sufficient download capacity provides access to/from terrain that is available at the upper elevations.
- Focus on northern exposure for expansions. Consider this when deciding on expansions plans; south-facing expansions may not be viable in the future. Consider your network of north-facing trails and think about a scenario where they might be the only trails open. Would this work? Are there tweaks to your operation that would make it work?
- Expand snowmaking capability. Snowmaking is a make-or-break necessity at most resorts now. Snowmaking coverage should be enough to establish a functional trail network. What kind of visitation can you expect if only trails with snowmaking are open?
- Modernize your snowmaking system. This can range from replacing nozzles to new automated systems. New technologies are more efficient and are able to make more snow at marginal temperatures.
- Expand snowmaking storage. Have enough storage to be able to make snow during short weather windows, and reduce your reliance on the variability of natural, instantaneous stream flows. Consider opportunities for the recapture of melting snow, and greater water reuse.
- Shorten the season. Is opening early a good strategy? Using the water and energy required to get open early may not make any sense in every market. Consider the amount of water and energy consumed (and in some cases depleted) to make early season snow, and the risk that erratic weather patterns may thwart these efforts completely. Analyze when it is best to use your resources to net the greatest return.
In addition, think about the degree to which you are “walking the talk” with regard to green initiatives. The weather-dependent nature of our business makes our industry a visible participant in the climate change discussion. NSAA has responded with initiatives like Sustainable Slopes and the more recent Climate Challenge, with the aim of both encouraging resorts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but also to raise awareness and encourage our customers to take action as well. Are you participating?
The science is complicated and variable, and while most agree that some change is happening, the end result remains unclear. And while industry members may not be on the same page regarding climate change, most agree that weather has been one of our biggest challenges. Being adaptable and resilient applies to both, allowing owners and operators an increased effectiveness at reacting to the variability of weather, while at the same time preparing for any eventual permanent changes to our climate.
How are you adapting and increasing your resilience to changes in the weather? Do you want to be proactive or reactive?