Accumulated snowpack supports winter recreation, aesthetic values, and regional and local climate dynamics, which in turn influence both wildlife habitat and ecosystem function.
— The Economic Benefits and Costs of Snow in the Upper Colorado Basin


The Economic Benefits and Costs of Snow in the Upper Colorado Basin, points to some surprising ways that snow and snowpack benefit both the regional and national economy.


And of course, snow significantly supports the region’s outdoor industry. According to one report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), winter recreation provides Colorado with about 37,800 jobs. Across the state, the difference between high and low-snowfall years accounts for over 1.8 million fewer skier visits, translating to a loss of $170 million (2016 dollars).

The diverse benefits of snow put into perspective the damages underway due to this winter’s historically low snowfall. As of February 2018, Colorado’s snowpack levels are about 63% of their historical average. Though currently abnormal, low snowpack numbers appear increasingly likely to become the new norm. Over the entire basin, spring snowpack is projected to decline nearly 70% by 2070. One NRDC model projects that late spring snow could disappear entirely by the end of the century.

Although the economic outlook related to snowpack looks gloomy, our report sheds some light on how policy mechanisms can incentivize smarter and more efficient water usage. As the climate continues to warm, and as snowmelt occurs earlier during the winter, the region needs policies that can manage risks stemming from declining snowpack, earlier snowmelt, and water shortages.

Suggested Citation: Cousins K., 2017. The Economics Benefits and Costs of Snow in the Upper Colorado Basin. Earth Economics, Tacoma, WA.

Funded by The Walton Family Foundation.