February 02, 2013
This morning I woke up, looked outside, and saw it was … snowing! I love snow since I love wintersports (Skiing, ice skating, snow shoeing). As such, I have skid in the French Alps (Les Deux Alpes to be correct) from 14 to 23rd of December 2012 after 4 years of no skiing at all. It was a great experience to be on the slopes and the mountains again, although I also experienced hardship and painful muscles.
Anyways, this is not the space to dwell over my ski holiday. Rather, this is the time to delve a little deeper into the background of skiing with regards to sustainability since there is much to be gained and done in this sector due to its environmentally intensive, though, inspiring activity.
- Skiing is a very intensive environmental sport in many different ways and increases your ecological footprint heavily. In the first place it regards your transportation to and from the slopes. Transportation is a heavily environmentally damaging action. Flying has the biggest footprint. Therefore, one can choose between flying, train, bus and car. The least environmentally friendly way is taking the bus due to the amount of people it can host.
- Accommodation can have a great impact. Choosing a resort where cars are prohibited in the city centre is the best option. This reduces air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, it reduces stress and transportation arrangements when going to the slopes. It is much easier, faster and convenient to walk or to take the local ski bus rather than arranging your own transport. Choosing an eco-lodge is the best option to reduce your footprint even more.
- One can look into equipment and clothes. On the first place, clothes should be warm and comfortable. Gore-tex and thermo underwear are necessary, next to layers. Furthermore you can look into the environmental standards of the clothing. Clothes can be made from recycled materials and/or coconut threats. An outdoor brand which put this in practice is for instance Vaudé. Next to that, one can choose for recycled and alternative skis and shoes. For instance, in Les Deux Alpes, there is a shop which makes skis from recycled carpet wood.
- Small lift generally brings you faster to the slopes, and may be more energy efficient than an old big cabin which can transport 50 people. In Austria there is even a lift on solar panels. This will hopefully also be an option in the rest of the Alpes.
- Food and drinks can also be bought in an environmentally friendly way. Organic and locally produced products are most of the times at hand. Choosing a restaurant which serves such products can make a difference. Additionally, one can go a little further and choose to eat vegetarian.
- The ski resort and slopes themselves are highly environmentally intensive due to the construction of the resort and the slopes. When a resort had to be built from scratch (many in France), it gives a much higher footprint than an already existing village (mostly Austria). Furthermore, the construction of roads and use of salt causes run-off of salt, damaging the local nature and bad for the rivers and drinking water. The slopes intervenes into the natural habitat due to logging and the influence of people onto the slopes. Therefore, choosing an old, existing village can reduce your footprint a bit, but not entirely. Staying on the slopes rather than off-piste will reduce your intervention on the natural habitat of species as well.
- Respect the natural environment. And you can choose to compensate the damage of skiing by donating to organizations which plant trees and/or set up sustainability projects. Off course, when you really are concerned and active, you can help plant the trees yourself. Trees can be planted next to the slopes as to add to the terrain and to combat the environmental degradation of skiing.
- Ask your tour operator what they do for the environment and if they have a sustainability strategy.
For further information I refer to nicely written thesis online on the effects of ski industry on the environment by Jon Chives.
There is also a ranking list of ski resorts best environmental practices on: http://www.fastcompany.com/76450/skiing-green
Other suggestions on sustainable skiing: http://www.responsibletravel.com/copy/think-all-you-leave-is-tracks-on-the-snow