Snow Sports vs. Global Warming
Global Warming is causing temperatures to rise and is disrupting weather patterns world-wide. The Snow Sports industry (skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice climbing, etc.) depends on cold winter weather and reliable snowfalls. Given that Global Warming threatens the very existence of snow what is the Snow Sports Industry doing now and what could it be doing to operate more sustainably?
Ski Areas and Resorts
Taos Ski Valley is the largest ski area in New Mexico in both size and number of skier days each season. Taos Ski Valley's current environmental programs include a village-wide recycling program for glass, paper and metals. Unfortunately, the recycling program does not yet cover plastic bottles or containers. Taos also sells 'SkiGreen' tags for $2 each which are said to offset 150 miles of car travel through support of windpower projects. Taos has sold over 600 SkiGreen Tags for the '07/'08 ski season by mid February 2008. Parking lot operations at Taos also now push cleared snow into piles to 'store and melt' instead of fouling local streams with the sand and gravel laden snow.
Taos Ski Valley is planning a new base area which will be built in a more environmentally aware way. Hopefully, this will be a opportunity for Taos Ski Valley to pursue a high LEED certification and rebuild a more sustainable ski resort.
Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado has a more proactive approach to addressing sustainability starting with the resort's Environmental Department. A small selection of Teluride's environmental programs include:
- Complete water quality testing on all streams on golf course as part of Audubon program.
- Employee Telski shuttles to Montrose and Norwood that save approximately 500,000 miles driven per year.
- Waste oil heater installed at lift operations facilities to burn used fryer oil, and shop oils.
- Phased CFL lighting retrofits for all resort facilities in progress.
- Environmental staff provides various educational field trips and nature events to local school children and environmental groups.
Telluride Ski Resort has also won several environmental awards, most recently the Silver Eagle Award for Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection in 2006 for their Prospect Basin Fen Studies and San Juan Fens Partnership.
Patagonia was established by Yves Chouinard as a manufacturer of rock climbing hardware. The company has since evolved into a premier sportswear company for everything from skiing to white-water kayaking. While I normally loathe 'business' books for their pop-psychology and high concept, low content writing Let My People go Surfing by Yves Chouinard is an exception to the rule. Yves lays out the history of Patagonia and how environmental awareness has driven the evolution of the company. I recommend picking up a copy at your local library for a surprisingly informative and enjoyable read.
Patagonia's environmental programs include:
- 1% for the Planet. Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.
- The Conservation Alliance. Patagonia co-founded The Conservation Alliance in 1989, with the goal of encouraging companies in the outdoor industry to support environmental organizations in their efforts to protect threatened wildlands.
- Common Threads Garment Recycling. Customers can return Capilene®, fleece and Patagonia organic cotton T-shirts to be recycled into new garments.
- Patagonia National Park. Conservacion Patagonica, a non-profit organization dedicated to protection of wildland ecosystems and biodiversity in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina, is working towards the goal of creating Patagonia National Park.
Venture Snowboards is a small snowboard manufacturer, based in Silverton, Colorado. Venture was started in 1999 with a green focus, as co-owner Lisa Branner states "Part of why we snowboard is because we like being outdoors." They have been powered exclusively by wind generated electricity purchased from the local electrical co-op since 2004. Venture only uses sustainably harvested FSC woods in their snowboards. They are also continually testing and searching for sustainable materials to replace the petroleum-based plastics (P-Tex) that are currently used in making skis and snowboards. Venture is now planning to build a passive-solar, sustainable factory in Silverton, CO for when they outgrow their current location.
When it comes to the snow sports media in America, I'm underwhelmed. Pick up any snow sports magazine (especially one with 'ski' in the title) and you'll see what I mean. Frankly, they are extended advertisements for the snow sports gear, travel and real estate industries. Any mention of climate change or CO2 emissions is hard to find and couched in indirect terms. I would be thrilled to see the snow sports media take an editorial stand against global warming and inform their audience of the issues and responsible steps to take. But, I'm not holding my breath.
It's a start
I've taken just a few examples from across the Snow Sports industry. There are certainly companies that are more or less environmentally responsible than the examples in this article. I am encouraged that some companies in the snow sports industry are working to address global warming. I encourage you to patronize the companies and resorts that are moving towards sustainability. We can also make suggestions to those companies that aren't moving quickly towards environmental responsibility. After all, no one who loves the snow wants global warming.
If you know of other ski areas, snow sports equipment manufacturers or related businesses that are actively working to address Global Warming please let us know.
SnowCode.org - The Skier's and Snowboarder's Climate Challenge