Climatologists say Colorado ski season will get shorter

KEYSTONE, Colo. -- Climatologists said Colorado's ski season will get shorter as the climate continues to get warmer during a panel hosted at Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort Saturday.

The panel included Jim White, the director of the University of Colorado's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Katja Friedrich, an associate professor with CU's Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and Keith Musselman, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

White said the data show Colorado's ski season will start later and end earlier as temperatures get warmer. Friedrich said it's about one day per year.

"It will be a continuation of what we have already seen and what we have already seen is the ski season has started later. And it's tended to end earlier," White said. "We have lost a couple of weeks off the ski season already over the last 20 to 30 years."

Friedrich said precipitation will increase, and that will mean rain for ski areas in lower elevations and snow for resorts situated higher.

"Ski resorts at lower elevations will have to adjust for that or they will have to shut down. That's something to be determined. But that's what we see in the data. More rain days, shorter season, that's what we see," Friedrich said.

Friedrich said Colorado resorts will do better than ski areas on the East and West coasts that are at lower elevations. Friedrich said bad conditions in those areas will likely drive skiers and snowboarders to Colorado.

"While we will have a shorter season, we will maintain a good amount of snow throughout the season. One assumption is it is very good for the Colorado economy," said Friedrich.

Years from now, White said skiers might need to go to Northern Canada for good skiing and snowboarding.

"There are going to be a bunch of ski areas in northern Canada that are going to be making money off Colorado skiers. I don't think that day is going to come in 50 years, but it's going to come some time," White said.

According to a 2015 economic study conducted by Vail Resorts and Colorado Ski Country USA, the ski industry generates $4.8 billion annually for Colorado's economy. White said there's more than just ski resorts interested in what's in store for the future.

"It brings a lot of people to Colorado and so it's an important part of who we are," White said.

"It'll probably get worse before it gets better," Friedrich said.