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Social Climate Change: The Advancing Extirpation of Snowmobilers in Vermont

Elizabeth Perry, Robert Manning, Xiao Xiao, William Valliere, Nathan Reigner


Climate change has potential to substantially affect the availability and quality of snow and thus has potential to affect snow-dependent winter recreation activities. Research has shown that participants in these recreation activities are adapting to climatically changed conditions and are likely to continue to adapt in the future. This study explores these issues as they apply to snowmobiling in Vermont, identifying a suite of climate change manifestations, investigating their salience to the snowmobiler recreation experience, and assessing how these manifestations may impact the snowmobile participation rate and quality of experience. Climate change manifestations are informed by climate change models, helping to define the future conditions and supply of snowmobiling opportunities. Social science research on how snowmobilers may adapt to these changing conditions helps define the future demand for snowmobiling. We conducted an online survey of snowmobilers in Vermont, asking respondents if and how they would change the amount of snowmobiling they do in response to climate change manifestations that may impact snowmobiling conditions. Study findings suggest that the amount of snowmobiling in Vermont is already declining and that these declines are likely to become more substantial. For example, 44.7% of respondents have noticed declines in the length of the winter season during which there is enough snow to snowmobile, and 30.7% of respondents have decreased their amount of snowmobiling in response. Moreover, study data define the future relationship between climate-related changes in snowmobiling conditions and changes in amount of snowmobiling. For example, with 150 days of adequate snow cover, the amount of snowmobiling will increase 36.9%, but with 25 days of adequate snow cover, the amount of snowmobiling will decrease 44%. The length of season threshold for participation in snowmobiling is estimated at 79 days; more than 79 days will cause snowmobiling to increase from current levels, and fewer than 79 days will cause a decrease. Given the climate change sensitivity of snowmobiling found in this study, along with the predictions of climate models for Vermont, snowmobiling may ultimately be unsustainable. This will decrease the benefits of snowmobiling, including the enjoyment of locals and tourists who participate in the sport, the economic contributions, and the culture of the state. Substitution of other winter season recreation activities is a potential adaptation to declining opportunities for snowmobiling.

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Climate change; adaptations; snowmobiling; outdoor recreation; Vermont

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