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Published on November 9th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Eco Sporting in a Winter Wonderland

If there were an athletic equivalent of the endangered species list, most winter sports, like skiing, snowboarding, and sledding, would have to be on it.  As global temperatures rise, the world’s major mountain resort areas are losing substantial portions of their snowpack.

The season for winter sports is shrinking so much that many mountain resorts have had to diversify into summer sports or close down altogether.  The direst of forecasts predict that winter sports will be impossible in about half a century.  There just won’t be enough snow anymore.

A Mountaineering Morning

The future of winter sports may be in doubt, but you can choose to be part of the solution rather than the problem and still hit the slopes.  You could visit one of the resorts that run all of their operations on wind energy, for instance.  Or you could buy snowboards and skis that are designed with sustainable materials.  There are many things you can do to make sure you’re enjoying the white stuff in as green a manner as possible.

Eco Resorts

Mountain ski and snowboard resorts require huge amounts of energy and resources to operate: there are ski lifts and gondolas to power, lodges and hot tubs to heat, equipment to clean, slopes to groom, snow to create when snowfall is light, and cars, buses, and planes to bring in customers and supplies.  This produces tons of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.  Further degradation is caused to the environment when the resorts tear down forests to build new buildings or grade the mountainside for new slopes.

Thankfully, many resorts have realized that they need to set an example of ecological responsibility—not just for their own industry but also for society as a whole.

  • Aspen Skiing Company, for instance, has its own mini hydroelectric power plant capable of supplying 35 homes with power.  The company, which has four mountains in the Aspen, Colorado area, also uses solar panels to power a ski station, purchases wind power to offset its energy consumption, utilizes green building techniques for its resorts’ buildings, and has converted its groomers to biodiesel.
  • Vail Resorts, which operates four mountain resorts in Colorado and one in Lake Tahoe, California, purchases 152,000 megawatt-hours of wind energy every year to replace all the power used by its mountain resorts, and also gives a free lift ticket to anyone who signs up for a year of wind energy for their home.

Many other resorts, big and small, have been going green as well…

  • Jackson Hole, in Wyoming, runs two of its chairlifts on purchased wind power.
  • Mammoth Mountain, in California’s Sierra Nevada range, has cut its electricity use by more than 9% since 2000, runs all of its vehicles on biodiesel, and even uses geothermal heat in some of its buildings.
  • Jiminy Peak, in Massachusetts, is building its own wind turbine that will meet as much as one-third of its own energy needs.

There are plenty of good resources on the web to help you find an eco-resort near you. The Green Room is a good one for the U.S., and Ski Club of Great Britain has a great guide online if you happen to be in Europe, which has been even harder hit by rising temperatures than the US.

Ski with Green Gear

Skiing and Snowboarding Gear

Just as you’d expect when resorts are having shorter seasons, sales of snowboarding and skiing gear have declined in recent years.  And it’s not just those two winter activities: in many areas, ponds and lakes haven’t been freezing over thickly enough for ice skating or ice fishing.  In some places where snowmobiling is popular, the snow is often not nearly abundant enough to make it any fun, forcing many snowmobile dealers to choose between diversifying into all-terrain-vehicles (ATVs) or closing up shop altogether—the very same dilemma that many mountain resorts are facing.

If you’re at all concerned about the environment, you probably shouldn’t drive a gas-fueled snowmobile for recreation anyway.  When it comes to downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding, probably the biggest environmental impact you can make is choosing to only visit earth-friendly eco-resorts that limit their consumption of energy and resources, destruction of wilderness and wildlife habitat, and production of waste and greenhouse gases.

Here are a few more suggestions for how you can go green while skiing and snowboarding:

  • Many resorts allow their guests to purchase renewable energy credits or donate money to nature conservation organizations during their stay.  As mentioned before, you can also buy a year’s worth of wind power to offset your home’s energy consumption and get a free lift ticket to any of the Vail Resorts.  The wind energy credits must be purchased from Renewable Choice Energy Inc., the very same Colorado company that provides all of the wind energy credits to Vail Resorts.
  • Travel to the slopes in as environmentally friendly a way as possible.  Most resorts have buses and shuttles, some biodiesel-driven, that you can take to the slopes instead of your own car.  If you must drive, arrive in a hybrid vehicle—this will sometimes even get you preferred parking, such as in the “Green Lot” at Sierra at Tahoe!
  • Buy alpine skis, cross-country skis, and snowboards from environmentally conscious manufacturers like California’s Arbor, Colorado’s Venture Snowboards, and New Zealand’s Kingswood Skis, all of whom use sustainable materials like bamboo, cork, and wood instead of fiberglass, metal, and plastic.
  • Use veg-based waxes like Purl Wax, Biogreen Soy Waxes from One Ball Jay, and soy-based Bluebird Wax instead of petroleum-derived waxes.

Other Winter Green-Sports

It’s not just the major winter sports that are going green.  If you’re into snowshoeing, you can buy snowshoes with environmentally-friendly decking materials that don’t use any PVCs.  If ice fishing is your thing, you can use a laser auger instead of a gas- or battery-powered auger.

Whatever sport you enjoy, there are probably ways out there for you to minimize the impact it has on the environment.  It may not seem like much, but unless we start to apply green principles across the board, there may not be any winter left for us to enjoy.  All the more reason to hit the slopes now, you’re probably saying to yourself.  But you can help keep those slopes white by going green with your winter sports.

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