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A regional public media collaboration serving the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

'Snow Is Currency' In Mountain West States

Photo of closed terrain at ski resort.
Chelsea Naughton / KUER
Closed terrain at Utah ski resorts is just one symptom of a low snow year, but fewer open runs means fewer jobs in the winter for Mountain West states.

A new report says climate change is hurting the ski industry, and a climate advocacy group says the Mountain West is particularly vulnerable.

Protect Our Winters looked at data over the last 16 years. The non-profit found that years with lots of snow created more than 2,000 extra jobs in the Mountain West. Low snow years, on the other hand, cost the region about 3,000 jobs. 

Tom Foley works with Inntopia business intelligence.  It’s a travel technology and research company. 

Credit Judy Fahys / KUER
The view from the Mount Olympus foothills on Feb. 6 shows how lean this year's snowpack has been. A series of snowstorms this month has left Salt Lake City has brought snowfall in the valley to about two-thirds of normal since Oct. 1.

Analysts there did their own research and came to similar conclusions: snow is currency.

"There are lodging taxes to consider, there are retail sales taxes to consider, and there is, of course, on-mountain operations to consider, which is the most directly and dramatically impacted by low snow," Foley said.

Foley says ski resorts are adapting to quote the “looming reality” of less snow by doing things like hosting music festivals, weddings and summer sports like mountain biking.

This piece was produced as part of the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism consortium of six public radio stations in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
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