Last week at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show, three industry trade group heavyweights, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), Snowsports Industries America (SIA), and the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), announced they were teaming to form the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership (OBCP), an advocacy group aimed squarely at enacting meaningful and actionable plans to combat climate change within industry practices, but also in the halls of state capitals and in Washington at a federal level.

This unified front against climate change from outdoor industry leaders is a big deal. According to SIA, it’s the first partnership of its kind among the trade groups.

With recent studies suggesting the outdoor industry generates nearly $900 billion in annual consumer spending, a committed industry group focused on flexing that economic muscle just may be able to bend enough ears in Washington to drag energy and climate policy in a direction that benefits not just outdoor enthusiasts, but, well, everybody.

“Now is the time to offer action and every one of us to figure out how we are going to make a difference,” said Kelly Pawlak, the head of NSAA, a group that includes over 300 ski resorts and the hundreds of local satellite businesses that work to supply those resorts. “Warming is happening faster than we expected, and the impacts are going to be greater. The time for climate action is now.”

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The snow show was a particularly appropriate place to launch an initiative geared toward the outdoor industry combating climate change. Ski resorts and the snow sports industry are poised to be hit especially hard by a warming planet as snow seasons shorten across the planet. As reported by the New York Times, average snowline in Lake Tahoe, California, for example, has crept up the mountains by as much as 1,500 feet. Winter season lengths across the country are rapidly shrinking. The Northeast may see 50 percent of their ski resorts facing closure in the next 30-40 years, assuming shorter seasons reduce the economic viability of those resorts.

None of that is to mention the impact shorter snow seasons is having on the gear, apparel, and hospitality pieces of the snow industry puzzle, already seeing declines due to climate change.

As Porter Fox, a former editor at Powder Magazine, wrote in an op-ed this weekend in the New York Times (read here) many ski resorts seem to have gone all-in on adapting to climate change, rather than pushing to help stop it before it gets much worse. Fox points out that resorts have typically pushed their chips to the center of the table betting on adaptation by adding warm weather activities to their business portfolios and praising the ability to more efficiently manufacture snow, for example.

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What’s needed, Fox argues, is a concerted lobbying effort by the outdoor industry, to not deal with climate change as it comes, but to make meaningful changes to at least slow its pace, if not halt it in its tracks.

The OBCP, along with already-existing advocacy groups like Protect Our Winters, is a potentially invaluable step in that direction. Some state groups got on board right away with the announcement about the formation of the OBCP.

“Pursuit of climate change solutions is a defining issue for ski areas across the United States. Many meaningful solutions are possible with action at the state and regional level. As economic drivers in our respective states we urge policymakers to understand that we can’t wait for lasting, bipartisan action to reduce carbon emissions, promote energy innovation and support a rapid, responsible transition to a clean energy economy,” said representative from from Colorado Ski Country, Ski Utah, Ski California, Ski Vermont, Ski Areas of New York, Ski New Mexico and the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association in a release.

With recent studies suggesting the outdoor industry generates nearly $900 billion in annual consumer spending, a committed industry group focused on flexing that economic muscle just may be able to bend enough ears in Washington to drag energy and climate policy in a direction that benefits not just outdoor enthusiasts, but, well, everybody. There isn’t a group of people in the country who wouldn’t benefit from rapid attention paid to lessening the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change. This goes well beyond simply defending people’s ability to ski.

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What form advocacy spurred by the OBCP may take remains to be seen. Groups like Protect Our Winters and some ski resort companies have targeted unseating politicians from mountain states that either deny climate change or don’t vote to support measures that would curb it. That’s one direction, as is pushing for sustainability standards in manufacturing and energy production. The outdoor industry standing up for climate change policy comes at a time when the federal government appears disinterested in meaningful legislation to address the looming issue.

The new Congress this week may take up a vote on a sweeping package of public lands reforms, which would include reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It’s just these sorts of public policy regarding land and environmental issues the OBCP may be able to take on by pooling the strength of all three trade groups.

“An ‘all hands on deck’ approach is essential in meeting a challenge as significant as climate change, and together we‘ll have a stronger voice to drive change inside and outside of the outdoor recreation industry,” said Pawlak.


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