The impact of climate change on winter ski tourism in the Pyrenees

We all know that climate change is having a major impact on weather patterns around the globe. One industry that is particularly exposed to these changes is the ski industry. Though large mountain/high elevation ski resorts may remain insulated from the impacts of shorter ski seasons and more erratic weather, those ski resorts at low altitude are particularly vulnerable to a changing climate. As a mid-latitude, lower elevation (comparatively) ski region, the Pyrenees are one area where the impacts of a changing climate are pronounced.

I have had the pleasure of working with Marc Pons, a PhD student at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (BarcelonaTech), in Spain. Marc has been working on developing an agent-based model (ABM) to explore the climate change impacts on winter ski tourism in Andorra, a key skiing destination in the Pyrenees. Marc’s work has looked at how artificial snowmaking can serve as an adaptation response to extend a marginal ski season, or to ensure adequate snow coverage for peak ski times, such as holidays. The benefit to using an ABM for this type of work is that one can quickly develop and test alternate scenarios. For example, in his work, Marc tests the impact of artificial snowmaking on several different Andorran ski resorts – each with a unique geography and elevation that impacts how effective snowmaking is. Also, Marc has taken into account several different scenarios of climate warming, allowing him to present best/worst case scenarios. I see this rapid scenario development as one of the strengths of ABM, particularly in how it can be used in climate adaptation research. Future work can focus on the skier response to changing snow conditions, helping to determine which resorts, operating in a competitive marketplace, can expect to draw more skiers. There are clear business implications of this research, especially when considering how closely tied a local economy is to a major attraction such as a ski resort. This research will be published very soon in the journal Climate Research, but you can take a look at a pre-print version here.

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