Climate change puts the heat on Aussie ski resorts

Tracey Ferrier |

Modelling suggests Australia’s ski season could effectively cease to exist by 2080.
Modelling suggests Australia’s ski season could effectively cease to exist by 2080.

Australia’s ski season is about to get even shorter, with new modelling detailing what’s in store for the nation’s most popular resorts.

It’s no secret climate change is already hurting the ecology and economy of the Australian Alps.

Previous work has documented a 30 per cent drop in snow cover in recent decades, with the average snow season at alpine resorts shrinking accordingly.

New modelling has shed light on what lies ahead for specific resorts, under low, medium and high climate change scenarios.

It suggests most of Australia’s resorts could be useless for snow sports roughly 50 years from now,  under a worst-case, high-emissions scenario.

Snow seasons would effectively cease to exist for most Victorian resorts by 2080, including Falls Creek and Mt Buller. 

It’s the same in NSW, with Thredbo, for example, modelled to have a ski “season” length of zero to one day, and Perisher zero to five days.

Things improve dramatically under medium and low emissions pathways. But under all scenarios, the forecast is for far fewer days on the slopes in the short, medium and long term.

By the 2030s, the average ski season is tipped to shrink by 16 to 18 days.

By the 2050s, it’s expected to be 28 days shorter under low emissions, 44 days shorter under mid-level emissions, and 55 days shorter under high emissions.

And by the 2080s, the season could be 25 days shorter under low emissions, 61 days shorter under mid-level emissions, and non-existent under high emissions.

The modelling also warns of other alarming impacts as the snow vanishes from Australia’s high country.

The Alps provide 9600 gigalitres of water a year, on average, into the Murray-Darling Basin – almost a third of its annual flows.

People at a ski lift at Perisher (file image)
The average ski season is tipped to shrink by 16 to 18 days within a decade. (John Kidman/AAP PHOTOS)

With climate change forecast to cut precipitation in the Alps by up to 24 per cent by 2050, that will exacerbate already fierce competition for water for farming, regional water supplies, and environmental flows.

ANU researcher and report co-author Ruby Olsson says it’s clear snow-dependent regional economies will have to adapt and diversify into new economic opportunities, and that process must start now.

“The more we can limit climate change impacts by reducing greenhouse gas emissions the less expensive adaptation by businesses, communities, and the environment will be and the more options we will have,” Ms Olsson said.

And while there may not be a lot of snow in Australia’s future, some opportunities will come with that.

“The (alpine) region will become a haven from increasing temperatures and heatwaves across the rest of Australia, which means summer tourism in the region could thrive.”

skier at Kosciuszko national park
A shorter ski season and a diminished snow melt will also impact farming and regional communities. (HANDOUT/PROTECT OUR WINTERS)

Sam Quirke, from Protect Our Winters, says anyone living in the Alps knows the previous ski season was tough, with minimal snowfall and some resorts closing early.

But all Australians need to understand there’s far more to lose than the $3 billion alpine resorts contribute to the national economy each year.

“The snow-melt water runoff supports the livelihoods of farmers, other regional communities and cities across Victoria, NSW, South Australia and the ACT – all of this hangs in the balance,” Mr Quirke said.

He says it’s time for the federal government to ramp up adaptation efforts for vulnerable communities and snow-dependent industries, while also taking stronger action on climate change.