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Spiraling Ticket Prices and the Climate Trap

Reporting for ABC News, Sophie Bress, discusses the impact of climate change on Utah ski-areas. According to Ben Abbott, assistant professor of plant and wildlife sciences at Brigham Young University, within the last 30 years, there’s been a 20% decline in the average amount of snow in Northern Utah. “When I was a kid, there was enough snow for the ski resorts to operate year-round that fell naturally,” he remembers. “We used to have much more reliable and plentiful snowfall than we do today.”

The industry has responded by making more artificial snow, but Abbott has concerns about the viability of this practice, pointing to the high cost of making snow and the carbon footprint associated with operating the system.

As artificial snow becomes an increasing percentage of the total snow cover, ticket prices will need to increase, which on average will lead to lower attendance. But, if attendance drops, prices will need to increase even further, triggering a negative feedback effect. Moreover, the environmental impact of snowmaking is contributing the very problem it's intended to address. “At least 35% and maybe as much as 100% of the mega-drought that we’re in is caused by human disruption of the climate,” Abbott says.

Is there a way out? Abbott doesn't see any. “Our ski resorts are located very high in the watershed, so they typically don’t have large rivers that are flowing through them.” And he has been right. Until now, there hasn't been a cost-effective way to gather water from a network of small streams and springs.

But now there is.

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