Welcome back to This Month in Journals, where we read the latest exercise and sports science and pull out some research that might be of interest to skiers.
Drs. Håkon Sælen and Torgeir Ericson from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway, recently published an assessment of how weather affects skiers’ attitudes towards the cost of trail access to go skiing. Published in the Journal of Environmental Management, the paper explores how these preferences interact with predicted future changes in climate to imply changes for the ski industry.
The study was done outside of Oslo in the Marka, a 1700 square-kilometer forested area around the city that contains miles and miles of ski trails. The location makes the results both particularly relevant for the future of skiing, and also perhaps difficult to apply globally, as Norwegians have a unique relationship with skiing and the Marka area is the most heavily-used trail system in the country. It is easily reached by public transport from many different areas of the capital city, and the Normarka trails connect to those at Holmenkollen, the famous racing venue.
“Our interest in the impact of diminished snow cover in Norway is due to the special role snow and skiing play for many citizens, both recreationally and culturally,” the authors wrote.
They also quote Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s 1996 article, Norwegians and Nature: “You can become a Norwegian, culturally speaking, by putting on a pair of skis and heading down the trail… [Oslo residents go to the Marka] to surround themselves with winter temperatures and snow for a few hours …to confirm that they are Norwegian, despite all.”
With this background, the researchers headed to the Marka and talked to recreational skiers. Offering hot drinks as an incentive, they talked to 207 skiers about their recreational habits, asked them demographic questions, and finally presented them with a “choice experiment.”
For instance: if you had a choice between traveling 5 km to reach a forest with no snow (maybe to go bicycling), or traveling 20 km to reach a forest with snow, which would you choose? What if one was slush? What if the distances were 40 km and 70 km? At what point would you rather just stay home?
In this experiment, because skiing is free in the Marka, the travel was considered the “cost” to go skiing. Each distance to travel was assigned a set of time costs and monetary costs depending on whether the participant usually traveled by car, public transportation, or bicycle; the cost included both bus fares or car fuel (for example, 5 km requires 7 crowns [$1.15 U.S. dollars] of fuel or 20 crowns [$3.26] in transportation tickets), as well as the cost of their time defined as 1/3 of their wage rate.
The results: only about half of trail users would be willing to travel just five kilometers to reach slushy trails. The average user would be willing to pay about 47 Norwegian crowns to get there ($7.67 in U.S. dollars) if the conditions were slushy; the cost of traveling 5 km averaged of 48 crowns to drive and 73 crowns to take public transportation.
Another way to look at it? Users would be willing to travel just 1.5 km to get to slushy trails, on average. This wasn’t any significantly different from just staying home.
Users preferred bare ground to slush, likely because they could walk, run, or bike instead of having poor skiing conditions. The average user was willing to pay 124 crowns ($20.70) to get to dry trails, and/or travel 23 km to get there.
Finally, of course, having snow was the most desirable option of all. The average user was willing to pay 209 crowns ($34.11) to reach skiable trails. They were willing to travel 45 km – and the most dedicated users almost 50 km – to get there.
The researchers also found that car owners were willing to travel farther than users who rely solely on public transportation, and that the level of wealth of a family partially determined the strength of their preferences for their favorite conditions – that is, wealthier users could afford to be more picky, whereas less affluent users were more likely to accept conditions at the closest trailhead even if they weren’t ideal.
Climate change brings a prediction that southern Norway will have far fewer days with snow in future winters, yet the cost of loss of skiing has only been addressed in a few ways. It may affect tourism and, to that extent, the economy, but since many trailheads do not require trail fees, this economic portion has been left out of the picture.
The authors assert that the considerable time and money Norwegians are willing to put into traveling to snow on a day-to-day basis suggests that skiing has a significant value to the community’s welfare. For instance: the population would probably be much less happy and healthy if they weren’t able to ski. Thus, even if there’s not a family-run ski area losing money like we might have in the United States, the cost of warming winters might be extremely high in the area around Oslo.
“Looking at the results in relation to those of similar studies and in relation to results of studies of other popular recreational activities that have a market price, the absolute value of the [Willingness to Pay] for the average trip suggests that skiing is important to people, and that the recreational value from skiing in Marka is sizeable,” the authors conclude. “The large variation in the relative value of different conditions indicates that fewer snow days result in a considerable welfare loss.”
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Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.