Alpine Tourism - Protect Our Winters Australia

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Alpine Tourism

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Climate change is threatening the economic viability of alpine tourism globally, with ski tourism in Canada, the United States, Europe, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia impacted by warmer temperatures and reduced snow depths.

Australia’s alpine winter tourism industry has been labelled the “canary in the coalmine”, as it is globally one of the first and most visibly impacted industries from climate change. This means how Australia experiences climate change and the response by Australian alpine resorts, communities, and governments will provide valuable learnings to the rest of the world: either as a leader in climate adaptation and mitigation, or as a lesson in what not to do.

Section Contents

  • Resort Summary
  • Snow Tourism
  • Lance Guns
  • Fan Guns
  • Snow Factories
  • Snow-reliability and economic viability
  • Projections 2024: “SkiSim2” model
    • Methods
    • Projected temperature and precipitation
    • Results: Projected ski season length
    • Technically produced snow required to maintain a 100-day season
  • Snow tourism adaptation options
    • Snowmaking
    • Adjusting the physical landscape: landscaping, slope development and moving to higher altitudes
    • Diversification of winter revenue
    • Year-round tourism or summer tourism
    • Mergers and ski resort conglomeration

Summary

Skiing in Australia is already relatively short compared to many other markets globally and the number of ski areas with a substantial ski season will decline rapidly in the coming decades. Mt Buller, Mt Baw Baw, Mt Stirling (Nordic), Lake Mountain (Nordic), Mt Selwyn, and Ben Lomond are Australia’s ski resorts most vulnerable to climate change. Visitors of smaller ski resorts tend to have a greater tolerance for poor-quality snow, as a larger proportion of visitors are families, with higher interest in snow play, tobogganing, and beginner slopes, which require less snow. With sufficient support from these groups, smaller, low-elevation resorts may continue operating for longer. However, as indicated by the SkiSim2 projections, these resorts are unlikely to be economically viable past the next few decades if they continue to rely predominantly on winter downhill skiing.

These vulnerable ski resorts play an important part of the region’s economy, culture, and identity (see Section 3: Regional communities). These resorts need to further invest in adaptation measures, such as summer tourism and winter diversification, to preserve Australian values of outdoor-based recreation in the alps, health and wellbeing, and to continue supporting regional towns. There are opportunities to be seized when adapting to climate change; as Australia warms, the Alps will provide a haven of cool temperatures in Summer. Seizing these opportunities requires proactive decision-making and collaboration across governments, communities, businesses, and recreational users.

The Australian alpine industry is different to the international alpine industry, where snow cover is more extensive, the ski season is longer, and visitor preferences and expectations differ.

Further research into Australian visitor perceptions and preferences would improve the ability to predict short and medium term responses to declining snow and increased snowmaking. Some areas of inquiry would be:

  • How many winter visitors are non-skiers and how could winter diversification cater to these visitors?
  • What would make the Australian alps a more attractive summer destination (first-time research for NSW resorts)?
  • How do visitors respond to changes in natural snow depth and snowmaking (update of Victorian resorts since 2016 and first-time research for NSW resorts)?
  • How is backcountry skiing projected to increase and what is the carrying capacity of the Australian Alps backcountry areas?

The SkiSim2 results highlight that long (and most likely economically viable) ski seasons are still possible with effective mitigation that keeps our global emissions trajectory within a low emission scenario, particularly for higher altitude resorts. It is therefore critical that governments take drastic action to mitigate climate change. For resorts particularly vulnerable to climate change, planned adaptation needs to occur soon, so that Australian governments and communities can support a transition that preserves jobs, economic activity, regional towns, and other values.

Recommendations

Investment in year-round tourism and diversification of winter tourism should occur. These options need to be balanced with ecological values and the carrying capacity for each needs to be determined.

Extensive collaboration about adaptation options needs to occur between natural resource managers, the alpine resorts, and the community to ensure that ecological trade-offs are acceptable and that adaptation options have the best chance of a sustainable and economically viable outcome.

Further investment in renewable energy for snowmaking operations needs to occur, at a resort and/or state levels.

Download this section

This page is a summary of the ‘Alpine Tourism’ section from the report Our Changing Snowscapes: Climate Change Impacts and Recommendations for the Australian Alps.

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Protect Our Winters Australia acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land upon which we live, work and play. We pay respects to the Elders, past, present and future, across the many Nations. Their ancestral ties to country have never been extinguished, and sovereignty never ceded.

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