What appears more pristine and exemplifies the untouched beauty of the outdoors more than a snow covered ski slope with a fresh covering of snow? If your first response is to answer affirmatively, let’s rewind for a moment. The truth is, as recently as 2003, Sierra magazine published an article about the skiing industry’s potentially negative impact on the environment. Since that time a number of ski resorts around the country have heard the sound of alarm and have made great strides over the past decade to decrease the industry’s negative impact on the environment and increase its sustainability.
So what’s so bad about the industry?
Deforestation. Tree removal and slope grading contributes to erosion and a decreased potential for carbon sequestration.
Litter. Litter is often found on the ski slopes. An orange peel takes 2 years to decompose. A cigarette butt could take 5 years to degrade.
Artificial Snowmaking. Some snowmaking machines use chemicals to expedite the freezing process. When this artificial snow melts, the chemicals leach into the soil or become runoff along with the rest of the melt, posing potential harm to aquatic wildlife.
Snowmaking also draws water from sources during the late fall and early winter, when there is little recharge, and the aquatic populations need water the most.
Increased Carbon Emissions. Transportation to and from the slopes brings increased levels of carbon emissions to the once clean air, as does the use of fossil fuels for heating, cooking, lifts, slope maintenance equipment, etc.
Threats to Wildlife. Developing a ski area disturbs the wildlife population. The Canadian Lynx, for example, which is found in Colorado, is an endangered species and its numbers are dwindling more and more every year.
Cheap Labor. Ski areas often rely on cheaper, imported labor, thus contributing less to the welfare of the local economy.
What can we do to support sustainable skiing?
Use Public Transit. Take the train instead of driving to a ski area. Amtrak offers wintertime deals to several ski areas throughout the West.
Respect Wildlife. Stay out of restricted areas! These areas often protect the mountain’s wildlife. Skiing or snowboarding in these areas could damage the natural habitat of wild creatures who were there before man decided to make it a playground.
Don’t Litter! Follow the “carry-in, carry-out” policy.
Eat Local. While on your ski trip, eat locally. Not only will you lessen the carbon footprint of the ski resort, but you will also be respecting the local economy and lifestyle.
Choose Wisely. Using the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition (SACC) Environmental Scorecard, visit the most sustainable mountains and avoid those ranked low on the scorecard.
What some ski areas have been doing to make their operations more sustainable:
Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts installed a wind turbine that will supply the ski area with one-third of all its power needs.
Mad River Glen in Vermont doesn’t make any artificial snow and makes an effort to repair its old lifts and facilities rather than rebuild them using new materials.
Beaver Creek in Colorado installed an 8-person gondola to connect its new high-end, green architecture resort to the mountain, eliminating the need for a gasoline-powered shuttle bus.
By using alternative energy sources such as biomass and wind, Jackson Hole in Wyoming has been able to offset over 15% of its carbon dioxide emissions, and has plans in place to continue to expand this percentage.
SACC’s 10 Most Sustainable Ski Resorts for 2012:
Park City Mountain Resort, UT
Stevens Pass Ski Area, WA
China Peak Mountain Resort, CA
Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, CA
Deer Valley Resort, UT
Aspen Highlands Ski Resort, CO
Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, CO
Alpine Meadows Ski Area, CA
The Canyons, UT
Grand Targhee Resort, WY
The 10 Least Sustainable Ski Resorts:
Arizona Snowbowl, AZ
Breckenridge Ski Resort, CO
Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park, WA
Steamboat Ski & Resort, CO
Monarch Ski and Snowboard Area, CO
Eldora Mountain Resort, CO
Bear Mountain Resort, CA
Snow Summit Mountain Resort, CA
Solitude Mountain Resort, UT
Homewood Mountain Resort, CA
For more about sustainable skiing visit www.skiareacitizens.com.