Over the years, there has been a growing phenomenon of red mountains. The last thirty years or so, winter in the west has continually warmed and shortened. As a result, an insect known as the Mountain Pine Beetle has wreaked havoc on the wooded natural areas of the Rocky Mountains, ranging from Canada all the way down to Mexico. These beetles are naturally occurring and predominantly feast upon Lodge pole pine and Ponderosa pine trees. This species in not an invasive species, however, in the last thirty years, there has been an explosion in their population.

Mountain Pine Beetle graphicResearch has shown that the reason the population has grown and continues to do so is the lack of cold winters. In order to keep this species in check, the winter season must be cold enough, long enough, in order to kill off the majority of the population. As we have seen in recent decades, the west has not had the winters as in the past. Due to this, the pine beetle population has been eating away at the forested areas of the west with no natural check to keep the population in balance. As a result, entire mountains are covered in dead trees.

The Ski industry must take note of this issue. Granted the cause of this issue is out of their hands, the effects on the industry are not. The visitor experience takes into account many aspects of a trip. The ascetics of an area are chiefly important to the overall experience.  Due to this, it is not unreasonable to think that guests would choose an area based on its ascetics when comparing two similar skiing experiences. Because of this, business will be lost, resulting in fewer skier days for the resort which has a direct influence on the local economy.

Ski areas must take into account this and mitigate the issues to the best of their abilities. Vail for instance, has been cutting any trees that have been compromised by the beetles. As a result, many of their runs are becoming quite open. There are several ways Vail can take advantage of this. First, use the trees for future needs such as buildings, mountain biking trains, firewood in the lodges, and as mulch for landscaping purposes. Secondly, Vail can now use the wide open trails to their advantage. At many resorts, there are few runs that are wide open. Sell this. Some of my favorite runs are wide open. I don’t know if it’s because I can go faster as people are more spread out, or if it’s because I can cut across large areas of the mountain.  Whatever the reason, there is a relatively untapped market for this type of skiing.

In the future, tourism professionals are going to have to roll with the punches due to climate issues. Saving money, while increasing market share will is an important business principle to follow. This is one way to reduce lumber needs, as well as creating a new marketing advantage in a highly competitive industry.