Outdoor sports are an important aspect of the winter culture in Québec. In addition to being part of the daily life of a considerable portion of the population, some activities are also a source of tourism and generate significant economic benefits in many regions far from major centres. Downhill skiing is one of these key activities, with 75 ski resorts in 16 tourist regions across the province.
However, climate changes are compromising the practice of these winter activities. Projections for the province indicate warmer average winter temperatures, reduced snow cover and increased liquid precipitation during the winter. These projections are likely to have a negative impact on winter sport conditions, which require abundant snow, along with cold, stable temperatures. This represents a threat to the winter outdoor industry and the prosperity of the many communities that depend on it.
These findings led the Ouranos consortium, the Québec Ski Area Association, the Bromont, Sutton and Orford ski resorts and the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) to collaborate on a study in order to thoroughly assess the impact of climate changes on the Québec skiing industry and to identify adaptation measures that ski resort operators can implement to maintain the level of activity at their sites. This project also incorporated the contribution of various local stakeholders, such as regional county municipalities (RCM) and economic development organizations. The approach consisted in working in collaboration with various areas using specific cases, while producing results that could also be used by ski resorts in different regions as part of the development of local climate change adaptation strategies.
In order to better assess the various possible adaptation measures, the project team first created a portrait of the industry and associated climate changes. This portrait includes a review of the knowledge on climate changes and the alpine skiing industry, as well as an analysis of climate projections specifically targeting the Eastern Townships region.
This analysis revealed that without adaptation measures, the start of the season would be delayed by about 7 to 10 days by 2050, compared to 2020. In addition, the ski season would also be 10 to 20 days shorter. However, this decrease would not compromise the capacity of the resorts targeted by the study to operate above the minimum threshold of 100 ski days. Finally, by 2050, the available skiable area could decrease by 20 to 30% in terms of open trails, on average, for the three resorts.