How To Help Outdoor Recreation Adapt to Climate Change

Photo by Banff Sunshine Village on Unsplash.

The outdoors can play a significant role in the life of a Third Culture Kid (TCK), Cross-Cultural Kid (CCK) or anyone living a cross-cultural lifestyle. Being outside can provide an escape from the turmoil of everyday life and the community itself can unify people beyond cultural barriers through a love of the outdoors.

However, the face of outdoor recreation is changing, thanks to climate change and global warming. 


As time goes on, climate change continues to alter the environment drastically. According to an article in the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) magazine, greenhouse gases are flowing into Earth’s atmosphere. As a result, temperatures are rising across the globe.

The article states that dangerous heat, droughts, severe storms and flooding affect parts of the world more often and more severely. Sea levels are rising as ice caps and icebergs melt.

Snow patterns are changing as well. Sunshine Swetnam, assistant professor at Colorado State University, USA, and the Ski Area Management Online certification program leader, says elevation plays an important role in snowfall levels. Lower elevation areas struggle more when it comes to snowmaking, and higher elevations see frequent shifts in snowfall.

“It would not be appropriate to say everything will be fine” in higher elevations, Swetnam says. “We have a yo-yo going on up high. Some years are good, and some years are bad.”

She emphasizes that weather patterns and location significantly affect snowfall as well. For example, cold winds from the Pacific Ocean can create snow in lower elevation areas like Seattle, Wash., USA, and San Francisco, Calif., USA. She also points out that northern regions at lower elevations, such as Sweden and Siberia, are receiving snowfall because they are located in the northern region.

We have a yo-yo going on up high. Some years are good, and some years are bad.

Water levels are suffering due to the rising global temperatures. For example, both Swetnam and Ethan Billingsley, the Adventure Tourism program lead and instructor at Colorado State University, say the water level of Lake Mead, a reservoir in Nevada, USA, is critically low. Billingsley said the reservoir is vital to providing water and power to Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

While these natural occurrences have always affected how and when people recreate outside, climate change has dramatically strengthened such events.


Five people wearing blue wet shirts and helmets whitewater raft down a river.
Photo by Logan Easterling on Unsplash

According to the NRPA article, every type of outdoor recreation is affected by climate change. But snow and water-based recreation are the most heavily influenced.

Swetnam says while snowfall hasn’t depleted, it has lessened. Snow seasons are becoming shorter, and the number of resorts able to support winter sports is shrinking. Those who partake in snow sports such as skiing and snowboarding have less time and space to recreate. Swetnam also says there has been an increase in downloading, which involves less skiing and more taking ski lifts down the mountains. She emphasizes that in Europe, downloading is already a regular occurrence.

Billingsley says lack of water impacts the whitewater rafting industry, a big part of adventure tourism. He says insufficient water levels shorten or diminish the seasons. Additionally, rising ocean temperatures result in coral reef bleaching, threatening swimming and reef tourism. 

Coral bleaching
Photo by Hitoshi Namura on Unsplash

“I was in the Caribbean a couple years ago, and I went to a spot that had previously been a big reef destination, and the reef was dead,” Billingsley says. “Honestly, if I would have known, I wouldn’t have traveled there.”

Billingsley says increasing wildfires threaten forests, a primary host for outdoor recreation. People cannot access forests during the fire, and the fire severely impacts the land.

“It changes its ability to host adventure tourism activities,” he says. “Not many people enjoy walking through a charred forest as opposed to a living, thriving forest.”

Unpredictable weather patterns threaten the futures of local parks, according to the NRPA article. Extreme temperatures often drive people to stay indoors, leaving parks abandoned. Outdoor sports seasons such as soccer are postponed when unusual rainy weather drenches the fields, which need to be dry to prevent permanent damage. 


Outdoor recreation providers are making various changes to adapt to the changing industry.

Swetnam says the snow industry is adapting by diversifying: Ski resorts are coming up with creative events such as festivals, concerts and extreme sports games that people can watch. These events draw people towards their resorts and can accompany shorter snow seasons. She also says resorts receiving less snowfall support other activities, like hiking and mountain biking.

Not many people enjoy walking through a charred forest as opposed to a living, thriving forest.

“If and when we get less and less snow, we will continue to diversify,” Swetnam says. 

Water-based outdoor recreation is focusing on diversification as well.

“If a company’s relied on a certain river or a season to be a certain length, they might start adding activities that are non-river based,” Billingsley says.

Image by NoName_13 from Pixabay

The whitewater rafting industry is investing in other activities alongside whitewater rafting, like mountain biking and rock climbing, according to Billingsley. He adds that they’re also focusing more on inflatable kayaks, which perform better in low water levels.

According to the NRPA article, parks and recreation agencies are significantly increasing the amount of shade present at local parks to combat hot temperatures. Outdoor sports coordinators are considering switching from grass to turf on their fields.

If and when we get less and less snow, we will continue to diversify.

The NRPA article states that coastal towns are learning how to combat rising sea levels, and calls attention to Virginia Beach, Va., USA. The city is investing in detention ponds, green infrastructure and “floodable” parks, which can serve as parks during dry times but help retain water during floods.


Ultimately, the outdoor recreation industry must change its culture to adapt to climate change. 

The outdoor recreation industry is ensuring its survival by implementing these changes. Perhaps the community can prove that cultural adaptation and cooperation are key to combatting climate change. If so, it could set an example for the world to follow.

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