Warmer winters create uncertainty for NH seasonal tourism industry

  • Jordan Cargill, owner of Mountain Shadow Adventures in North Conway, is a guide who brings people to remote wilderness places. Here he is climbing up Hamlin Peak near Mount Katahdin in Maine. Courtesy photograph — Jamie Walter

  • Jordan Cargill, owner of Mountain Shadow Adventures in North Conway, is a guide who brings people to remote wilderness places. Courtesy

Concord Monitor
Published: 4/5/2021 9:14:43 PM
Modified: 4/5/2021 9:14:41 PM

Mountain guide Jordan Cargill has spent his life enjoying the White Mountains and now he makes a living off it, leading those with an adventurous spirit to places like Tuckerman’s Ravine.

Before he formed Mountain Shadow Adventures in 2020, he said he struggled with his decision to pursue his dream job because of worries about the future of New Hampshire’s outdoors amid a warming climate and less reliable seasons.

“It was tough to wrap your head around, starting a business that relies on seasonality and conditions,” he said. “Even if you see it from an optimistic perspective, the reality is it’s probably going to be limited and challenging.”

Amidst a changing climate and even a pandemic, he chose to rely on human adaptability and began offering guided trips into the backcountry. He says there’s a lot of hope in that.

Cargill, a member of the national Protect Our Winters Alliance, like other business owners, has a financial stake in protecting the state’s cold weather tourism. Less snow means fewer skiers and snowmobilers, who bring their money with them.

New Hampshire’s outdoor businesses provide 37,000 jobs and make up 3.2% of the state’s economy, according to Tyler Ray, founder of Granite Outdoor Alliance, which advocates for responsible outdoor planning and use.

Because the economy relies so heavily on winter activities, more support is needed to increase sustainable projects, conservation and stewardship, Ray said.

One way to start the conversation is for people to start thinking about the outdoors and the economy as two interlinked items, Ray said.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the outdoor industry,” Ray said. “There’s a lot of potential for growth and to continue to have success and preserve, protect, what keeps us all happy.”

The effect climate change will have on winter sports and tourism is an uncharted terrain for New Hampshire. Several industry experts gave their ideas on what Granite Staters and out of state tourists who love the winter and the activities that come with it can do to alleviate the effects of a warming climate during a panel discussion last week organized by the League of Conservation Voters.

Ideas included forest protection, voting green, move to renewable energy sources, including electric vehicles and installing solar panels.

New Hampshire, similar to the Midwest, is warming fast, according to Elizabeth Burakowski, a research assistant and professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space. This warming affects more than just skiing; it affects entire ecosystems.

Ski resorts are already proving resilient against the odds, according to the President of Ski New Hampshire Jessyca Keeler. They can fight climate change by making snow when temperatures are below freezing, but that process uses a lot of energy.

To become more green, resorts have been implementing sustainable practices, such as incorporating biodegradable or recyclable plates, cups and napkins, and utilizing digital systems to cut back on the use of paper. Many resorts have also switched over to LED lighting throughout their lodges. In some cases, they have done energy audits and installed electric vehicle charging stations.

Several ski areas in the state worked with a Harvard graduate student to study their energy usage or carbon footprint. What they found was people driving to and from the mountain had a larger carbon footprint than the overall snow-making operation did, Keeler said.

A consensus among the group was moving away from the fossil fuel industry toward renewable energy. Keeler said New Hampshire needs to work on its electric vehicle infrastructure along with more investments into wind and solar energy sources.

Cargill said it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting a significant challenge and the scale of climate change prevent action against it. But he’s hopeful that it’s an issue that can be worked through, because individual actions can add up and make a difference.

“Part of the challenge is recognizing that we’re all imperfect and that we can still have an impact, we can still move towards a solution here,” Cargill said. “Protect Our Winters sees that a lot of the solutions to the climate crisis largely exist, but at this point we really need the political will to institute them.”

The future still looks optimistic due to a decline of costs with renewable energy versus legacy energy systems that cost higher amounts in the long run, according to the New Hampshire State Director for the League of Conservation Voters Rob Werner.

“We need to really get on that train,” said Werner, who is also a Concord City Councilor. “We’re really missing that boat and we’re leaving a lot of money on the table and we’re in fact hurting our ratepayers.”

President Joe Biden’s promises for a green economy have Werner fairly confident that renewable energy initiatives will have a positive impact on the whole country. Biden unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure investment and economic recovery package on Wednesday, which Werner said is going to be a big incentive builder in terms of making use of investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, renewables and creating more jobs and opportunities across New Hampshire.

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