Ski areas have been notorious for having negative environmental impacts on alpine ecosystems in addition to using tremendous amounts of energy for chairlifts and managing snow levels. As a lover of alpine skiing, I’m guilty of supporting these environmentally-unfriendly practices each ski season. However, there’s awareness now among the ski industry that sustainability should be a priority when climate change is threatening the entire well-being of the ski and snowboarding markets.
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has created a program called Sustainable Slopes that provides a framework for ski areas to improve their environmental performance. Furthermore, the “Climate Challenge” was established by the NSAA to encourage the reduction of GHG emissions in participating ski resorts in order to lower their overall carbon footprints. Below are a few tips that ski resorts could embrace to boost their environmental report card and make skiing a greener sport.
1. Reduce Water Usage
Less snowfall is evidently a common consequence of climate change in many mountainous areas, which is extremely problematic for ski resorts. The economic health of ski areas depend on the snow base each season, thus if it’s unusually low, resorts must use artificial snow to make up for the low levels. Artificial snow requires an abundant amount of water (and energy) and many resorts draw water unsustainably from local water sources.
To compensate for the unsustainable usage of water when making artificial snow, resorts should use low-water fixtures throughout their buildings, such as waterless urinals, and low-flow toilets and shower heads.
2. Lower the Carbon Footprint
Reducing the carbon footprint of ski areas is probably the most significant practice that the ski industry could employ to make this popular hobby more environmentally sound. There are many indirect and direct GHG emissions that ski resorts release, including the emissions from “snow-cats” and other snow vehicles used on the mountain, indirect emissions from purchased electricity to run snow-makers and chairlifts, and the energy used to travel to the resort, such as car and airplane travel.
An easy way to reduce transportation emissions could be the development of transportation programs (buses or trains) to discourage single-occupant vehicle travel to the mountain. Installing a renewable energy system is another way in which resorts could cut back on GHG emissions. Solar panel or wind turbine installments are possible alternatives. The “Climate Challenge” also encourages participating ski areas to adopt energy efficient buildings and lifts to reduce their footprint.
3. Promote Environmental Stewardship
It’s widely acknowledged that ski resort development has detrimental effects on alpine ecosystems. For example, to create a ski trail, bulldozers must remove all trees, vegetation, slope irregularities and the topsoil layer. This wreaks havoc on the soil health of mountain environments and causes soil erosion.
Ski areas should invest in surrounding habitat protection and promote environmental stewardship to offset the direct effects of wildlife and vegetation disturbance when graded runs are cleared. Educational programs or workshops could also be held at ski resorts to teach skiers and snowboarders about the importance of responsible environmental stewardship, resource conservation, habitat protection, and recycling practices.
Why Greener Sports
Each year, more and more ski resorts throughout North America are joining the Sustainable Slopes movement established by the NSAA. Hopefully other ski areas will break through in 2015 and participate in the Climate Challenge so skiing can become a greener sport. Sports teams and fans are gaining momentum in protecting our environment and communities by greening sports and joining the Green Sport Alliance. Greener sports saving energy, cutting waste and prevent pollution.