Snowmobiling Without the Snow

The semester is coming to a close, and unfortunately, it looks as though I will not be able to race across the snow at 45mph on a snowmobile (something which I’m sure my concerned mother is pleased about, but I am not).  The snowfall is simply not large enough at this point in the season. Disappointed about my inability to participate in this recreational activity due to weather constraints, I began wonder what impact climate change would have on both recreationalists and the NYS economy. To answer this question, I looked at how much money snowmobiling brings to the NYS economy, and then imagined the economic input vanishing with the snow.  Shorter winters are costly. They are already happening. Unless snowmobilers push for green initiatives, their sport could disappear and so could a large chunk of money in the NYS economy.

David Knapp, Franklin County Director of the New York State Snowmobile Association, explained to me the snowmobile registration process, which ultimately helps fund the maintenance of the sport itself.  It costs $45 to register your snowmobile if you are a member of a snowmobile club, and $100 to register as a non-member.  Of those fees, $40 and $95 goes into Snowmobile Trail Development and Maintenance Fund – a fund which, obviously, supports trail development and maintenance, but also helps fund safety classes and snowmobile law enforcement. Last year was a notoriously terrible winter for snow sport lovers, and as a result, the number of snowmobiles registered decreased.  “A lotta people don’t register or join a club without snow on the ground,” says Knapp. Because registration fees fund the following year’s season, the budget for this season is much smaller. With short winters, ”the trails will see an impact, and small businesses will see an impact,” says Knapp.

Trails and small business won’t be the only things taking a blow; a 2011 survey done by Potsdam Institute for Applied Research estimated that from 2010-2011, the total direct spending in NYS from snowmobiling was $434 million. This includes things like club fees, snowmobile costs, insurance, highway tolls, gas, clothing, food, and lodging. Such a large figure does not even include indirect spending, which researchers estimate would double that number. Unlike hunting, regional data exists for snowmobiling, and according to the New York State Snowmobile Association, “snowmobiling has an economic impact of $245 million in the Adirondacks.”

There is an irony in that snowmobiling relies on both carbon emitting vehicles and climate dependent snow.  Knapp points to the design of cleaner, more efficient snowmobiles in collegiate competitions as an initiative that the snowmobiling community is taking. Projects like this need to be expanded. Without a strong collective effort to fight climate change, the cost will be massive, and there will be far more people than just me disappointed that they cannot experience snowmobiling.

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