There’s nothing more exhilarating than skiing in waist-deep powder. Sadly, as most skiers know, over the last few years, snowfall has amounted to fewer and fewer inches. Leaving most to wonder what can I do, as a skier, to preserve the mountain and snow? We want our grandchildren to experience the same joys of cruising through powder and down perfectly groomed slopes. But, without some changes, this may not be possible.
Winter sports and climate change are undoubtedly closely connected. Skiing impacts the environment and having a good time on the slopes depends on snowfall. Ski mountains are hit hard on dry years and either have to produce their own snow or operate on a limited schedule.
Global warming has already affected ski tourism with the Scottish ski industry now practically non-existent. Europe’s Alps are also in danger with scientific reports predicting a 70% snow loss by 2099. Some ski conservation experts predict that within the next half century, ski resorts below 1200m will struggle to survive. This is particularly concerning for countries like Austria, where 75% of ski slopes start at below 1000m.
Ski tourism creates traffic pollution as people travel by plane (notorious for contributing to greenhouse gases) to resorts, villages build new hotels and holiday homes on land that was previously undeveloped, and ski lifts and snow production impact local ecosystems.
Artificial snow can have some serious impacts on the environment. Not only are snow guns very costly to operate, but they can also have long-term effects on the underlying plants. Also, once the snow is made (either naturally or artificially), all resorts use groomers to create perfect corduroy slopes, which effectively destroys all Alpine vegetation. And, due to the high altitude, it can take over thirty years to recover.
While skiing and snowboarding certainly have some environmental impact, there are a few ways to reduce your impact and make sure that future generations can enjoy the mountain.
Staying informed about companies’ impacts on the environment and about eco-friendly resorts is the first step to towards protecting our winters. Protect Our Winters, a non-profit campaigning for eco-friendly practices, encourages skiers to look into and question ski companies as well as general businesses’ sustainability practices. Customer feedback is one of the best ways to influence companies to take action.
Planes’ CO2 emissions have a direct impact on the environment so choosing an alternative travel method can help reduce greenhouse gases. Most resorts are accessible by train or car and some even offer free transport from local train stations to get you to the mountain. Sites like BlaBlaCar can help you find rides with people headed in the same direction. Perhaps, you’ll even find your next ski buddy?!
You can promote sustainability and protect the environment at home and on the slopes. Introducing simple lifestyle changes, like using a renewable electricity company or reducing the amount of meat you eat, can help tackle climate change. Protecting the environment should be a year-round effort rather than something you do when visiting the ski mountain. You can find out more about sustainable living at WWF.
When you’re skiing on remote pistes and there’s no bin available, it can be tempting to ditch your orange peel or cigarette butt in the woods. However, at a high altitude, litter takes longer to decompose so an orange peel can take up to two years to break down and five for a cigarette butt. Could you imagine if every skier over the last two years left their orange peel in the woods? Keep your slopes clean by storing litter in your pocket or bag till you can find a better place for it.
Skiing, especially off-piste, can be extremely disruptive to local animals. If you’re thinking about hitting the backcountry, make sure to ask about the best places to go. Animals tend to shelter in certain areas so by avoiding their spaces you can minimise your impact.
Over the last few years, snowfall has become less and less. To cope, some bigger resorts have petitioned for (and sometimes secured) government permission to move higher up the mountain. By creating bases at a higher altitude, guests can take advantage of the mountain’s glaciers. However, these mountain peaks are often the last stronghold for endangered or protected animals and Alpine plants.
Smaller resorts don’t have the financial resources or status to secure government permission. So, their bases remain at a lower altitude, which means that they don’t have as big of an environmental impact as large resorts.
As skiers have become more environmentally aware, ski companies have started to create some fantastic eco-friendly products. Here are some of the eco-friendly ski products available on the market:
- Eco-Friendly Ski Wax. Fluorine is sometimes used to produce ski wax, which is harmful to the environment when it enters the water system. You can now purchase eco-friendly waxes, which don’t contain fluorine.
- Eco-Friendly Skinproof. Companies like Colltex create eco-friendly skinproof, which makes your ski skins waterproof while also preventing the build-up of snow under your ski skins and improving the glide of your cross-country skis.
- Eco-Friendly Skis. Some brands have started to make skis from environmentally sustainable, recycled or reclaimed wood. Other brands attempt to reduce CO2 emissions when producing skis or replace toxic substances, like fibreglass, with eco-friendly materials, like bamboo. Some even offer recycling schemes for old skis.
- Solar Powered Devices. When you’re skiing the backcountry or on-piste, you might want to take your camera or cell phone with you. Solar powered backpacks and foldable hiking panels are a great way to charge your devices using renewable energy. You can top up on power while on the chairlift or eating lunch at the top, effectively reducing your reliance on fossil fuels while also charging your devices.
Waste is probably one of the biggest factors that contributes to global warming. When it comes to ski equipment and clothing, there are many ways to reduce your impact. Instead of throwing away the ripped pair of gloves, why not repair them. Or, instead of buying brand new ski equipment, you can purchase second-hand gear. When it’s time to get rid of old equipment, you can recycle it rather than throw it in a landfill.
Keep the three Rs in mind and you’ll be on your way to protecting our winters and making sure there’s enough snowfall for generations to come.
At Decathlon, we strive to create environmentally-friendly and sustainable products. We incorporate this mission through every part of the process from production to shipping and delivery to products and services.