BY EMMA HALL
Oregon prides itself on having the longest ski season in the U.S., with November-May openings. But a new report projects climate change will warm winter temperatures 4-10 degrees by the end of the century, threatening the long snow season that allows Oregon's winter tourism to thrive.
The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and nonprofit Save our Winters says the $12.2 billion U.S. winter tourism industry has lost $1 billion in 38 states in the last decade from diminishing snowfall. It projects that snow depths in the West could decline by 25% to 100% over the next decade.
Oregon is especially affected by low snowfall. It is one of the most-changed states when it comes to skier visits on high and low snowfall years, with a loss of 31% of visits on low years.
Last season was one of the hardest for the industry as a whole, as the U.S. saw its weakest snowfall in 20 years. Snowfall in the normally busy holiday season was low, and though it had picked up by mid-January (Mt. Bachelor even got 106 inches in one week), resorts couldn't make up for the loss of the busiest week of the year. “Last season was one of the most challenging in the history of the ski industry,” said Dave Rathbun, Mt. Bachelor’s president and general manager, in a letter to season pass holders.
The slow start to the season led the U.S. snow sports industry to see its worst season since 1991. The Pacific Northwest saw a decline in visits of 5.7% over the strong 2010/2011 season. KGW's Chief Meteorologist Matt Zaffino says 2012/2013 will be a good year for the Northwest snowpack, though not as good as two years ago. An El Nino seemed to be developing in late summer, but it is no longer a threat, Zaffino says. Read his Ski Oregon Season Outlook for more.
Snow conditions so far:
Mt. Hood Meadows: Mt. Hood has a base snow depth of 48 inches, and was able to open its night skiing last night, Dec. 12. Average annual snowfall of 430 inches.
Mt. Bachelor: This Bend ski resort has the most snow this season so far, with a total of 115 iches. It has the highest skiable elevation in Oregon and Washington, which contributes to its long season.
Hoodoo: This Central Oregon ski area opened last weekend, but only on Thursdays-Sundays until more snow falls. Current levels are 32.1 inches. 52 inches were predicted for the first weekend of December, but Hoodoo only ended up getting a 17-inch base. It's average annual snowfall is 450 inches.
Skibowl: Not open yet. The first of its seven lifts and tows is set to open this weekend, Dec. 15. It currently has 14 inches to 24 inches of snow. Average annual snowfall is 300-350 inches.
Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.