Australia ski resorts hit hard by climate change, research shows

According to new research, the length of ski seasons will be cut by a third by 2030, even if greenhouse gas emissions are radically reduced.

According to research from the Australian National University, New South Wales fields Charlotte Pass, Perisher and Thredbo, and Victoria’s Falls Creek and Mt Hotham fare better than others under the model.

But Ben Lomond, Lake Mountain and the Baw Baw, Buller, Selwyn and Stirling mountains will be hardest hit, according to the research.

Overall, the length of the approximately 100-day tourist season will decrease by 16-18 days by 2030, regardless of emissions.

Victorian Alpine resorts were responsible for 10,000 full-time jobs and $1.2 billion in economic activity in 2019. The latest NSW data is from 2011, but going by trends the NSW industry would have contributed approximately $2.1 billion in assets in 2019.

In 2050, ski seasons will be shortened by 28 days in a low-emissions scenario and by 55 days in a high-emissions scenario.

In 2080, if emissions remain high, there could be a skiable day on the calendar.

Furthermore, skiable day projections only take into account the “critical” altitudes of the resorts and assume that all resorts already have snowmaking facilities, which most but not all do.

The critical altitudes are: “The maximum length of the season that is possible with the partial opening of the highest terrain, being the lowest point of the upper half (if such an area exists), or the base station if not.”

Report co-author and ANU researcher Ruby Olsson said vulnerable locations need support to diversify into year-round tourism destinations.

“The more we can limit the impacts of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the less costly it will be for businesses, communities and the environment to adapt, and the more options we will have,” Olsson said.

Advocacy group Protect Our Winters Australia worked on the report with the university and the Australian Mountain Research Facility.

Protect Our Winters Australia director Sam Quirke said 2023 snowfall was inadequate.

“Last year’s ski season was tough, with minimal snowfall and some resorts having to close their doors early.

“This report shows that we will see this happen more and more frequently, as ski seasons become more irregular and harder to predict due to global warming, until we do something about it.”

Report co-author Olsson is undertaking her PhD research on the socio-economic impacts of snow gum dieback in the Australian Alps and possible response options.

According to the research, water runoff from melting snow provides an average of 9,600 gigalitres of water each year in the Murray-Darling Basin, or about 29% of the basin’s total annual flow. Climate change is expected to reduce precipitation in the Alps by between 5 and 24% by 2050.

“The report highlights a number of interconnected impacts on Alpine tourism, regional communities, hydropower, high country water flows to the Murray-Darling Basin, carbon sequestration, high country ecosystems and First Nations and makes recommendations to respond to these impacts,” the report reads.

The conflict over water allocations in the Murray-Darling Basin has raged for years, so even less snowmelt in the Alps would only exacerbate the situation.

More than 2.4 million people live in the basin and its rivers contribute $30 billion in economic activity.

The report recommends restoring canopy cover, soils and wetlands in the Alps to reduce precipitation reduction.

Furthermore, ecosystem-damaging tourism and hydropower expansions should only be done with full consideration of impacts on the basin.

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