SAVE OUR WINTERS: How climate change is affecting the greatest snow on earth.

Author:Lopez, Beth
 
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"Last year was the first time in the history of Snowbird that we opened the resort for the season, then had to close again due to lack of snow," says Hilary Arens, director of sustainability at Snowbird Resort. "We're seeing the impact of climate change here on the ground already. Not just in the amount of snow we're getting, but in the number of rain-on-snow weather events we're seeing. Historically, that happened once or twice per winter. Last year, it happened nine times."

Ms. Arens' role at Snowbird is a new one. In a push for preservation, resorts around Utah have added a "director of sustainability" to the roster of long-time roles found in resort work. Apart from lifties, patrollers, instructors, shop attendants, and waiters, they also need someone to stand up for the future of the industry. "We still have the greatest snow on Earth ... but if we don't turn things around right away, our best product isn't going to exist," Ms. Arens says.

THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF AN INCH OF SNOW

The promise of fresh snow serves as more than a pre-dawn clarion call to Utah's ski bums and powder hounds. Our state's famed snow takes center stage in Utah's $1.4 billion snowsports industry. Promising seasonal averages of 500 inches of feather-light powder, Utah's resorts draw 4.15 million visitors annually. That means a single inch of snowfall is worth $2,800,000.

And that's just the direct economic impact. Not only does Utah's snow-sports economy create 20,000 jobs for the state, but visitors spend an average of $337 per person per day on lodging, food, gas, shopping, and other tourist activities. According to the Utah Office of Tourism, tourism-related money is a boon to every Utahn, raising enough tax revenue to lower each Utah household's tax burden by $1,375 each year.

Our snow also brought the biggest event we've ever hosted: the 2002 Olympics, which came with a $6 billion economic boost for the state. We're even bidding to host again, which could bring another round of economic boosts--to say nothing of our usual list of races, competitions, acclaimed snowsports schools, and training facilities.

Utah's snow not only draws athletes and recreational visitors, but it's also a major recruiting tool for businesses throughout the state. Look no further than the 6,000 booming startups and tech companies allying themselves under Silicon Slopes' mountainous logo.

Outdoor industry businesses, too, have set up shop here to lure quality employees with a healthy balance between hours on the job and hours spent on the slopes and trails--including a long list of companies like Backcountry.com, Skullcandy, Rossignol, Salomon, Jaybird, Specialized, Black Diamond, Liberty Mountain, Discrete, Petzl. Goal Zero, Altra, DPS Skis, Gregory, Voile, Niche Snowboards, Cotopaxi, and Scott.

In short, there's more at stake with every inch of snowfall than just helping ski bums get their powder kick. The snowsports industry is an economic powerhouse fueling more than ski turns--it fuels our state's economy and financially impacts every resident and business.

CLIMATE CHANGE PUTS THOSE INCHES AT RISK

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