Winter recreation is an integral part of Maine, as it invites people to enjoy the great outdoors. After a fresh snowfall, skiers and snowboarders are eager to pack their car with snow gear, bundle up and hit the slopes. Yet, as global temperatures rise, Maine’s winters are warming and there’s an overall decline in snowfall. With less snowfall, our ski seasons are getting shorter and lodges are facing economic challenges.

Less snowfall, increased rainfall

Maine’s winter temperatures have increased 5.1 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 degrees Celsius) on average since 1895. This means Maine’s winters have been getting shorter and warmer. As a result of air temperatures increasing, we’re also getting more precipitation annually, and as you have likely experienced, more of this precipitation is falling as rain rather than snow.

The road leading to the Locke Mountain townhouses at Sunday River in Newry was washed out after a mid-December storm. Andree Kehn file/Sun Journal

Since 1895, statewide total annual precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) has increased by about 6.1 inches, with more rain and less snow falling. It’s expected to worsen, as climate models suggest Maine may warm by an additional 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 and up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, depending on the success of curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Snowpack and streamflow

Rain melts and erodes snowpack, which makes skiing all the more challenging. In 2022, seasonal snowpack was 1 to 3 feet below normal in southern and central Maine. Not only is skiing more difficult, but, with increased rainfall, snowpack is melting sooner than expected and causing serious flooding. Last month, Sunday River ski resort, among many other resorts, was forced to temporarily close its operations after a powerful storm hit. The heavy rainfall melted snowpack into valleys below, causing flash floods and severe damage to roads and infrastructure.


Adapting to the new norm

Ski industries will have to shift their operating practices to adapt changes. Their two main challenges are keeping snow on the slopes, while also reducing pollution from their energy-intensive operations. Snowmaking has become one of the most common ways to adapt to unpredictable snowfall and warmer winters. Yet, even without the challenges caused by climate change, snowmaking is very energy- and water-intensive, making it a costly solution.

It’s observed that, under moderate to severe warming, northern New England ski areas will have to amp up snowmaking capacity by at least 80% to keep the slopes covered all season past 2050. This is a climate conundrum because transporting water and compressed air uphill requires significant power, resulting in the production of additional greenhouse gases.

Our Sustainable City is a recurring column in the Sentry intended to provide residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland. Follow the Sustainability Office on Instagram @soposustainability.

Jenna d’Arcy is an AmeriCorps/GPCOG Resilience Corps fellow serving in the South Portland Sustainability Office through September 2024. She can be reached at

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