Changing Weather Patterns Threaten West Virginia Ski Industry

In February of this year, three of West Virginia’s four ski areas suspended operations for several days. The reason why? A shortage of the subfreezing temperatures required to make snow. Lifts and trails at Winterplace, Timberline Four Seasons, and Canaan Valley resorts closed during the week to preserve the remaining snow for the busier weekend days. At nearby Snowshoe Mountain in Pocahontas County, eigh lifts and around forty trails remained operational.

While operations were halted, resort staff members worked tirelessly to strategically move and create snow to facilitate better trail access. Unfortunately, this closure impacted one of the most important periods in the West Virginian ski season; March and spring skiing draw big crowds to resorts statewide. Several ski races were also cancelled due to the closure.



Climate Change Over the Years

Over the last century, the average temperature in Charleston, West Virginia has increased by over one degree Fahrenheit. While precipitation has increased by up to 10% in many parts of the state, much of it falls as rain. Over the next century, the West Virginian climate is expected to change far more; projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that temperatures in West Virginia could increase by 3 degrees Fahrenheit. The frequency of extreme hot summer days is expected to increase because of the general warming trend, but it is not clear how the severity of storms might be affected.

Climate change in West Virginia is indicative of a larger threat to the ski industry. While resorts in other states continue to use more water on snowmaking processes, their northern locations guarantee typical season lengths. West Virginia, on the other hand, is at risk of losing ski capabilities altogether; though mountainous, our state already experiences warm temperatures. The ski industry in this state is thriving, but it is at risk.