City Dwellers Look to Backyards When Deciding to Head to Slopes
By Lori Wright, Media Relations
December 5, 2007
City dwellers are less likely to head to the slopes when their backyards are
bare, even if New England ski resorts have many feet of packed power and ideal
skiing conditions, according to new research from UNH.
The new research is published in the December issue of the International
Journal of Climatology in the article, “Ski areas, weather and climate: time
series models for New England case studies.” The researchers are Cliff
Brown, professor of sociology at UNH; Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology;
and Barry Keim, former professor of geography at UNH and New Hampshire State
Climatologist who is now at Louisiana State University.
The researchers found that the New England ski industry is directly impacted
by the “backyard effect,” which means that urban snow conditions
significantly affect skier activity. Snow in urban backyards can be as important
to ski businesses as snow in the mountains, according to the researchers.
Because snow and weather follow deeper climate trends, the research also has
implications for understanding the potential consequences of climate change
and how it could impact the New England ski industry. Since 1970, Northeast
winters have warmed by an average of 0.70 °C/decade.
“Ski areas, emblematic of winter tourism, provide the economic engine
for many rural regions. Their importance extends beyond employment and revenues
of the ski area itself. Real estate booms in second homes and condominiums,
and in migration by retirees and others, raise housing prices and transform
communities in fundamental ways. Tax revenues, businesses, and the needs for
infrastructure and social services change as well. If climate shifts directly
affect ski areas, their indirect impacts ripple as well,” according to
The researchers studied two of the nation’s oldest alpine resorts, both
in New Hampshire: Cannon Mountain in the northwestern White Mountains and Gunstock
Mountain Resort near Lake Winnipesaukee.
With the assistance of resort personnel, researchers obtained records of daily
attendance through seven winter seasons at Cannon and nine winters at Gunstock.
Weather and snow-condition indicators include daily snowfall, snow-depth and
temperature for Boston, and Lakeport and Bethlehem, NH.
They found that attendance at the ski areas is more influenced by snowfall
in Boston than at the resorts themselves. For example, a one centimeter increase
in the previous day’s snow-depth at Bethlehem, near Cannon, increases
the predicted attendance by 11 skiers/snowboarders. On the other hand, a one
centimeter increase in the previous day’s snow-depth in Boston increases
predicted attendance somewhat more, by 18 skiers, even though Boston snow might
have no bearing on Cannon-area conditions.
“If this backyard effect reflects ignorance, then education is the cure – skiers
could be persuaded that great skiing exists in the mountains, even when their
backyard is bare. The backyard effect might also partly reflect subtler dynamics,
such as people who feel less like skiing, or perceive more activity choices,
when conditions are not wintry near home,” the researchers said.
Weekends and holidays also play a crucial role in ski resort attendance. The
highest spikes in attendance on weekends and holidays occur at different times
from one year to the next, however, because they are influenced by snow conditions
The results are particularly interesting in light of the continued investments
made by ski resorts in snow-making infrastructure. “Snowmaking costs
millions, but has become a competitive and climatic necessity in many places.
Smaller, less capitalized resorts, and those in marginal climates, have trouble
making the necessary investments – a factor in their high failure rate,
and the industry’s consolidation into a smaller number of larger resorts,” the
Links of Interest
· “Ski areas, weather and climate: time series models for New
England case studies”
· “NH Skiers Facing Downhill Slide Of Diminishing Ski Areas” (news
· “Warming Winters and New Hampshire’s Lost Ski Areas:
An Integrated Case Study” (journal article)