Survey finds Steamboat more prepared for climate change than many other resort towns

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, February 11, 2021 — Steamboat Springs City Council and Steamboat Springs Chamber partnered with Summit Economics to conduct a study aimed at measuring the impacts of climate change on the tourism industry and assessing how prepared Steamboat is for its future.

The Chamber sent a survey to all tourism-related Steamboat businesses — restaurants, retail, outdoor rental equipment and other businesses that attract visitors — and asked them what, if anything, they are currently doing to mitigate future impacts of climate change, particularly as it relates to precipitation and potentially shortening Steamboat’s ski season.

While Steamboat is heavily reliant on tourism, particularly in its winter season, Tom Binnings, a senior partner at Summit Economics, said the Yampa Valley is at an advantage due to its high elevation. He presented results from the survey during Tuesday night’s City Council work session

“Steamboat’s altitude may act as a buffer against the warming impacts of climate change,” Binnings said.

However, Binnings said Steamboat should expect a shorter winter season and be even more conscientious of wildfires in the summer and fall.

“Late summer and early fall will come into play as you have a shorter winter season,” Binnings said. “The greatest threat facing Steamboat comes from wildfires.”

A major fire near Steamboat could “devastate the city’s tourism industry, have prolonged impacts from greater flood potential, water quality degradation, erosion and danger and could close recreation areas for an extended period of time,” Binnings said.

Council members said they believed the city is already taking wildfire mitigation seriously but more urgency is needed.

“Whatever we can do to mitigate the threat of wildfire is so important, because we could lose our town,” said council member Robin Crossan. “I think that needs to be our number one priority.”

Binnings said the survey found Steamboat’s business owners were more prepared for climate change action than many other Colorado resort communities.

“We turned over a lot of stones in trying to find other tourist areas asking the questions, and a lot of places just aren’t there yet,” Binnings said.

Half of survey respondents have taken action in their business to adapt to changing conditions, 66% felt “intentional action” needed to be taken to deal with climate change and 76% of respondents stated they believed doing so should be one of several top priorities, Binnings said.

The survey also found shoulder seasons are underutilized and should be used as an opportunity for the tourism industry to expand.

Many tourism-related businesses are promoting summer tourism just as much as winter tourism, and Steamboat’s abundance of outdoor-related nonprofits can help educate locals and visitors on climate impacts.

“The industry perceives significant climate impacts are currently occurring,” Binnings said. “The coming decade will result in significant negative impacts on both the local natural assets as well as the region’s tourism industry.”

Going forward, Binnings advised council to identify and fund a destination management entity, continue wildfire mitigation efforts and develop key partnerships.

“If we’re moving in the direction of taking climate action seriously and developing a climate plan, we need to go out and be more proud about the fact that our community is taking this seriously,” said council member Sonja Macys.

To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.