“Fake snow”: longer ski season, but at what cost?

Squaw Valley, voted North America’s best ski resort in 2016, is a recognizable leader in ski resorts in California [1]. Yet, Squaw Valley is among numerous ski resorts negatively impacted by the physical reduction in snowfall in California the past several years.

Analyzing Squaw’s snowfall on a month-to-month basis, there are changing weather patterns that have ultimately shortened the ski season significantly [2]. The decline in snowfall can be seen in March and April, which have resulted in shorter seasons; Squaw’s closing day was in May in 2011 compared to March in 2014 [3] [4]. To heighten the concern, ski seasons are projected to be 3-6 weeks shorter by the 2050’s [5].


What do you do when there is no snowfall? You make it.

Ski resorts across the world are heavily investing in snowmaking technology to increase number of skiable days [6]. Snowmaking machines can lengthen the ski season, but also perpetuate the ultimate cause for less snowfall: non-environmentally energy usages. For example, one hectare (0.01 square kilometers or 0.004 square miles) of technical snow requires 600k–1,500k liters of water and 5,000–27,000 kWh of electricity (that’s equivalent to using your computer for 250 hours) [6]. Unfortunately, many international resorts are currently focusing on mitigating climate change through these immediate technology solutions that may only be exacerbating underlying cause for climate change [6].

Fortunately, Squaw Valley is thinking about sustainability.

snow4Squaw recognizes that the underlying reason for reduced snowfall spurs from climate change, as outlined in their Environmental & Community Report [5]. They report needing to focus on clean energy sources. While doing this, Squaw is still thinking about using snow machines. They invested in high-efficiency EVO snow guns that derive 100% of their water sourced from recycled water [5]. Squaw Valley’s $5.2million technology investment has resulted in 564,000 kWh of yearly electricity savings [5].

Squaw is adapting other sustainability initiatives to complement its technology. First, they are investing R&D into hydroelectric power – recognizing that their major carbon footprint contributors are electricity and water consumption [5]. They are also creating customer incentive programs such as premium carpool parking and increased recycling bins [5]. Ultimately, Squaw made a pledge to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage their customers to follow their lead.

But they aren’t alone.

In the US, there are 37 resorts participating in a “Climate Challenge” through the National Ski Area Association which aim to address climate change. The NSAA’s network of ski resorts are implementing techniques to reduce their environmental impact. NSAA research has shown positive correlation between sustainability practices and improved financial performance across ski resorts, which only helps promote the continued adoption of sustainability initiatives [7].

So now what should Squaw Valley do?

Even though Squaw has set targets to reduce emissions by 10% under 2014 levels by 2020, there is more to be desired from the pace they are adopting change [7] . In Squaw’s backyard, Sugar Bowl is outpacing Squaw as the 4th greenest resort in the US. Sugar Bowl is powered by 100% green energy [8]. Squaw may be able to market its sustainable practices as positive, but it cannot “walk the walk” that Sugar Bowl can through the clearly recognized environmental changes made.

Okay, so really, now what?


To truly be a leader in the ski resort industry, Squaw needs to invest more heavily in two fronts. First, they need to shift their energy consumption to 100% green energy. Looking at Squaw’s source of energy, it comes from non-green methods, such as coal and nuclear [5]. This is a shift that many of its competitors have already adopted.

Second, they need to increase incentives for sustainable practices from its customers by providing more discounts for recycling, bringing re-usable water bottles, and carpooling. These small changes can significantly increase awareness, brand recognition, and overall reduction in costs. If Squaw Valley hopes to maintain its #1 position in the ski resort market, it needs to rethink its current speed to adoption for sustainability practices and truly become the leader in sustainability.



Word Count: 800

[1] “Squaw Valley Ski Resort: About Squaw Valley.” Squaw Alpine. http://squawalpine.com/skiing-riding/mountains/squaw-valley-ski-resort, 2016. Web, accessed Nov 2016.

[2] “Squaw Valley Historical Snow Fall.” On The Snow. http://www.onthesnow.com/california/squaw-valley-usa/historical-snowfall.html?&y=2015&v=list, N.d. Web, accessed Nov 2016.

[3] “Welcome to Squaw Valley.” Squaw Valley Lodge Blog. http://blog.squawvalleylodge.com/2015/04 N.d. Web, accessed Nov 2016.

[4] “Squaw Valley & Alpine Closing Dates.” Unofficial Networks. http://unofficialnetworks.com/2012/03/squaw-valley-alpine-closing-dates, 27 Mar. 2012. Web, accessed Nov 2016.

[5] “Environmental ­& ­Community ­Report­ 2014.” Squaw Valley. http://squawalpine.com/sites/default/files/Squaw.Sustainability.pdf, 2014. Web. accessed Nov 2016.

[6] Duglio, Stefano, and Riccardo Beltramo. “Environmental Management and Sustainable Labels in the Ski Industry: A Critical Review.” Sustainability 8.9 (2016): 851. CrossRef. Web. accessed Nov 2016.

[7] “Sustainable Slopes Annual Report 2016.” National Ski Areas Association. http://www.nsaa.org/media/276021/SSAR2016.pdf, 2016. Web accessed Nov 2016.

[8] “Top 6 Sustainable Winter Resorts for Snowboarding and Skiing in the US.” Inhabitat. http://inhabitat.com/top-6-eco-ski-resorts-to-hit-the-green-slopes-in-the-us/ . Web accessed Nov 2016.


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Student comments on “Fake snow”: longer ski season, but at what cost?

  1. A very clear and concise post! It was a pleasure to read.

    Following on from our discussion in the last classes, I wonder what fueled their incentive to implement the changes that they have, like the investment in the R&D for the hydroelectric plant. Was it a genuine concern for the environment, a view to the long-term, or a more of a marketing play? Would love to hear thoughts on this.

  2. Thanks for the post. This seems to be a super tough challenge that ski resorts are facing. It’s great to hear that some of these resorts are investing in various green initiatives, and hopefully these efforts will help mitigate some of the environmental risks in the long-term.

    In the short-term, however, I wonder if ski resorts need to instead rely more on innovative business models and marketing tactics to help consumers stayed engaged with the sport (despite poor snow quality, shorter seasons, etc.). These steps may need to be taken for the resorts to remain in business, and perhaps they can even hedge against the risk of shorter ski seasons by diversifying further (e.g., using their facilities for other types of activities).

  3. Great post, Karla! It makes me sad to see the predictions regarding ski season duration for the next years. It must be really tough being in the ski industry, because even though you can take steps to reduce your own impact on climate change, it is unlikely that the current effects (as projected) will be reversed. So really, ski resorts are incredibly vulnerable and the most direct variables (temperature and precipitation) are entirely outside of their own control. That being said, I admire that these industries ARE taking steps to reduce their own footprint to inspire others and be part of the change. I wonder whether ski locations could do more to partner with hotels/resorts in the area to reduce the overall “ski tourism” footprint. That could be a strong lever for them to pull and to increase impact significantly.

    Furthermore, this blog post makes me want to learn more about all the different ways in which the tourism industry is impacted by climate change. There is ski tourism on one end of the spectrum…and there are ocean resorts and islands (some of which are disappearing due to rising sea levels) on the other end.

  4. Karla – this is a great post! Although I love to ski and used to live in SF, I have never been to Squaw Valley. I was really impressed with Squaw Valley’s green initiatives until I saw that Sugar Bowl utilizes 100% green energy! Wow, what a stat! If Sugar Bowl can get there, Squaw Valley should be able to make that happen in short order. I wonder if Tesla’s new solar roofs and super batteries can help the solar energy contribution you highlight in your table able. The new roofs made by Tesla are almost identical to current roofing styles so they wouldn’t be an issue to use on the ski resort and are supposedly much more efficient . In addition, the super batteries can store massive amounts of energy so that the resort’s facilities can rely on solar energy even if the sun isn’t out!

    Really cool post!

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