Australia ski resorts hit hard by climate change, research shows

Even with a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the length of the ski season will be shortened by a third by 2030, new research shows.

According to research by the Australian National University, the New South Wales areas of Charlotte Pass, Perisher and Thredbo, as well as Victoria’s Falls Creek and Mt Hotham, performed better in the modelling than others.

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

In general, the holiday season will be shortened by 16 to 18 days from around 100 days by the 2030s, regardless of emissions.

Victoria’s alpine resorts were responsible for 10,000 full-time jobs and $1.2 billion in economic output in 2019. The most recent data from NSW is from 2011, but trends suggest the industry in NSW would have contributed about $2.1 billion to economic output in 2019.

In the 2050s, the ski season will be 28 days shorter in a low-emission scenario and 55 days shorter in a high-emission scenario.

If emissions remain high, there may only be one day left on the calendar to ski by 2080.

In addition, these ski day forecasts only take into account the “critical” altitudes in the ski resorts and assume that all ski resorts already have snowmaking facilities, which is the case for most, but not all.

Critical altitudes are: “The maximum length of season possible with partial opening of the highest terrain, namely 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 resorts needed support to develop into year-round tourism destinations.

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

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

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

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

“This report shows that this will happen more and more often as the ski season becomes more erratic and harder to predict due to global warming until we do something about it.”

The report’s co-author, Ms Olsson, is completing her PhD on the socio-economic impacts of snow gum growth in the Australian Alps and possible response options.

Snow meltwater adds an average of 9,600 gigalitres of water to the Murray-Darling Basin each year, about 29 per cent of the basin’s total annual water volume, the study found. Climate change is expected to reduce precipitation in the Alps by five to 24 per cent by 2050.

“The report highlights a range of interconnected impacts affecting alpine tourism, regional communities, hydropower, upland water flows to the Murray-Darling Basin, carbon sequestration, upland ecosystems and First Nations, and makes recommendations on how to respond to these impacts,” the report said.

The conflict over water distribution in the Murray-Darling Basin has been raging for years. Even less snowmelt in the Alps would only make the situation worse.

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

To reduce the decline in precipitation, the report recommends restoring tree canopies, soils and wetlands in the Alps.

Furthermore, any expansion of tourism and hydropower that harms the ecosystem should only be undertaken with full consideration of the impacts on the basin.

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