How to Go Green: Skiing & Snowboarding
Photo credit: Getty Images/Stockbyte
Skiing and snowboarding are such robust, exhilarating outdoor-oriented pastimes that it just seems wrong to not be green when you hit the slopes. You are, after all, taking advantage of nature's generous decision to include snowy, mountainous inclines in its blueprint--so why not minimize your impact when you go?
Thanks to plenty of progressive gear makers and resort owners, being environmentally responsible on your next ski or snowboarding trip won't be an insurmountable challenge. The folks who work in the ski and snowboard industry do so for a reason, remember--they likely love their sport, the outdoors, and the environment. There are a ton of easy ways to make your carbon footprint closer to a barely discernible snowshoe imprint, from supporting resorts dedicated to greening their slopes to picking out gear that's cutting edge both in performance and sustainability.
The skiing and snowboarding industries face a particularly pressing climate change Catch-22: ski resorts are big emissions generators, and those very emissions may very well put them out of business. We do, after all, need snow to snowboard, right? So it's easy to see why some resorts have a bit of a heightened interest in going green.
This guide will help you pick out the ones that are already implementing ecologically responsible initiatives-some have already gone to great lengths to install wind turbines, buy carbon offsets, and implement carpooling programs. We'll also look at some stellar green gear like solar-paneled ski suits and bamboo boards, point out some of the most egregious eco-offenders (can you say "indoor ski resort"?) and advocate greener, crowd-less cross country skiing and riding. Even better, from online watchdog green groups to cheap carbon offset movements, there are already well-oiled organizations, communities, and programs in place to aid the eco-conscious skier.
Of course, there will also still be some frightening facts to face; sad, slippery slopes of truth about snowfall rates going downhill is just one of them. Some of the more foreboding projections predict a snow-less mountain where the Winter Olympics-hosting Park City resort once stood in Utah-in under a century. But take heart-helping to turn the tide can be simple and painless.
So strap in, and get ready to ski and ride green.
|Top Green Skiing & Snowboarding Tips||Further Reading on Skiing & Snowboarding|
|Skiing & Snowboarding: By the Numbers||Skiing & Snowboarding: Getting Techie|
|Where to Get Green Skis & Snowboards||How to Go Green: Index|
|Skiing & Snowboarding: From the Archives|
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Top Green Skiing & Snowboarding Tips
- Find Sustainable Skis and Snowboards
Independent companies like Colorado's Venture Snowboards, which has converted its entire operation to run on wind power, sometimes have the greatest freedom to put green principle into practice. Support companies like these that are making a genuine effort to be sustainable. Also, look for innovatively green gear like snowboards made of bamboo, and skis made of Paulownia. Both are examples of good equipment that doesn't rely on the traditional timber that's used in most of the millions of skis and snowboards made and sold every year. Other options are buying used gear, or boards and skis made with timber approved by the Forest Stewardship Council. And, of course, if you don't head to the hills every weekend of the winter, renting gear is the greenest way to go.
- Get to the Slopes Greenily
If there's accessible public transit nearby, great-but unfortunately, most ski resorts do not seem to be located in metropolitan downtown areas. However, many ski and snowboard shops like Emilio's in New York City run shuttle services straight to the slopes from the city. Call the ski shops in your city and inquire about such trips. And for East Coast skiers especially, some train lines will drop you off well into free resort shuttle bus territory. If not, your best bet is to carpool, which is getting increasingly easier to do, thanks to handy Facebook apps and resort innovators like California's Kirkwood, which provides its own carpool service, the K-Pool.
- Go Cross Country
Cross country skiing is a woefully underappreciated mode of skiing (or snowboarding)--it can be intense, serene, and beautiful simultaneously, and it's the greenest way to ski. No chairlifts, no heated lodges, no blasting snow machines--just you and the great outdoors, and fields of untouched powder. You'll need a pair of telemark skis, and some skins to attach to the bottom of your skis for traction when hiking. If you're a snowboarder, things are little trickier, but only slightly. You'll have to opt for either snowshoes or what's known as a split board in order to traverse your prospective mountain. But with the proper gear, and proper knowledge of the backcountry areas, you've literally got hundreds of thousands of pristine slopes to yourself (though, just to be safe, it's always best to use the buddy system and go with a friend or two).
- Look for Groundbreaking Green Gear and Skiwear
There's a lot to choose from out there-from futuristic solar powered ski suits that unintentionally doubles as a warning beacon to anyone downhill from the wearer, to a green, vegetable-based snowboard wax. Or keep yourself warm with organic outdoor wear when you hit the slopes. And these are just some suggestions to get the gears turning, there's plenty more eco-friendly, US-made outdoor clothing out there.
- Head to Green Resorts
Some resorts are making big strides in the environmental arena: Massachusetts resort Jiminy Peak installed a wind turbine that generates a third of its electricity demands. The popular Wyoming resort Jackson Hole is now offsetting 100 percent of its energy use with wind and other alternative energy offset purchases. Aspen has been an award-winning, renowned green leader for years. Others are still plodding ahead into ungreen territory--Colorado's Copper Mountain is one of the more egregious, cutting down acres of National Forest for enlarged parking lots, and is doing little, if anything to preserve a habitat that's home to dozens of endangered species. But how do you know which resorts to snub, and which to support?
- Join the Ski Area Citizen's Coalition
Help keep an eye on eco-offending resorts and reward green innovators by participating in the nonprofit Ski Area Citizen's Coalition online community. Their annual Ski Area Environmental Report Card keeps tabs on the environmental impact of resorts nationwide and in Canada. The group deserves the credit for outing the flagrantly ungreen like Copper--it's the lowest graded on their list, coming in with a big fat F. SACC is an important group for any environmentally concerned skier, snowboarder, or conservationist. Join up and rat out the forest razin,' emission spewin' culprits of the resort world.
- Recycle/Donate Used Equipment
Keep your old gear out of the landfill by turning it over to the Salvation Army, or an organization like SWAG, where they can put your stuff to good reuse. Some companies like Grownskis, will gladly take back your busted old skis and remake them into one-of-a-kind furniture. Or, you can take a cue from the more extreme riders and skiers, and keep beat-up gear for practice purposes in the offseason: snowboarders use old boards to practice tricks on trampolines, and adventurous diehard skiers sometimes take battered skis on summertime expeditions for rock skiing. Only do either if you are considerably better at the sports than I am (read: for green experts only).
- Buy SkiGreen Tags
Many resorts offer skiers and snowboarders the option to buy a SkiGreen Tag along with their lift ticket, with the intent of neutralizing the amount of carbon you end up contributing on any given ski trip. All proceeds from the tag's purchase go towards wind energy offsets, and according to the SkiGreen website, each one bought is the equivalent of taking a car off the road for 150 miles. Driving more than 150 miles roundtrip for your ski day? Easy. Get two. Just have your carpoolers chip in.
- Do Not Ski in Dubai
Okay, so I'm just using the indoor ski resort in Dubai as an example for opulent, unnecessarily un-green resort destinations. Yes, it's a fascinating novelty. But yes, it's a nauseatingly unnatural resource hog aimed at giving the super rich a cheap thrill that will inevitably elicit head-shaking and murmurs of "What the hell were we thinking?" when Dubai's oil bubble eventually pops, which it inevitably will. Ski local, and avoid uber-luxury resorts. Also, while heli-skiing or cat skiing (chartering a helicopter or a snow cat mobile to drop you off on a remote mountain) seems awesome, bear in mind that it has a tremendous environmental impact.
- Offset the Big Trips
That said, diehard skiers will no doubt head to more exotic locales at some point. When you do, consider offsetting your travels with renewable energy purchases, like those from Carbonfund.org. While it doesn't mean you should make a habit of extravagant trips, and there's still some controversy over carbon offsets--the funds still go to an invaluable service: supporting and developing alternative energy sources. The very alternative energy sources that we'll need to see more of, if we hope to continue skiing into the 2100s.
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Skiing & Snowboarding: By the Numbers
- 5000 BC: Date of the oldest known depiction of a skier, found on a cave painting on a Norwegian island.
- 6.6 million: Number of snowboarders in the U.S. in 2004.
- 5.1 million: Number of snowboarders in the U.S. 2008; the number is dropping due to worsening weather conditions (like less snow), return to skiing, and crowded resorts.
- 4: Degrees Fahrenheit that the temperature has increased in the Alps over last 30 years.
- 467: Cumulative feet of snow on Squaw Valley Mountain Peak (8200 ft) in 1998/99 season.
- 369: Cumulative feet of snow on Squaw Valley Mountain Peak in 2006/2007 season.
- 7: Number of U.S. ski resorts that receive an "F" on the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition environmental report card for offenses like clearing protected forests for parking lots and neglecting to display concern for endangered species.
- 1.5: Number of megawatts created by the first wind turbine installed at a ski resort, at Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts.
- 2100: The year where Park City ski resort in Utah could have no snowpack at all at its base if emission rates remain steady.
Skiing & Snowboarding: Getting Techie
The eco-friendly material that's showing up more than any other in skis and snowboard is definitely bamboo. So why do bamboo, snowboards, and green make such friendly bedfellows? First, bamboo is an exceptionally strong material--one of the strongest naturally occurring on earth--so it makes for an ideal core in snowboards. The core is what makes up the majority of the board's body, and usually it's made of wood foam, or wood and composite material like carbon fiber. Bamboo offers superior durability and tensile strength, and retains the necessary flex for skis and snowboards. Using bamboo is environmentally optimal because it's incredibly fast growing, its roots aren't damaged when its harvested (so its extraordinarily renewable), and it requires little water to maintain. All this adds up to a crop that can provide a yield 25 times that of an equal area of trees.
The Resort Rundown
Ski resorts are often huge, energy consuming, multi-million dollar operations, and these are the primary areas where they stand to heavily interfere with the environment:
- Forest clearing: The need for additional ski runs, the creation of new parking lots, and ongoing real estate and boutique mall development can cut into old growth forests that are sometimes even part of a National Forest.
- Energy consumption: Running chairlifts, powering resource hogging snow machines, and meeting the extensive heating and energy needs of the lodge and restaurants means a heavy drain on electricity.
- Habitat endangerment: Without the proper regulations, ski resorts can imperil wetlands, usurp water and threaten its quality, and infringe on the delicate ecosystems home to endangered species. Make sure the resort you frequent has a solid record and sound policy regarding each of these areas.
As of 2006, there were 47 ski resorts in 14 states using some form of alternative energy, according to the New York Times. Colorado's Vail Resorts, which owns 5 ski operations, purchases 152,000 megawatt hours of offsets a year--enough to neutralize their combined carbon emissions. Furthermore, there are 19 other U.S. resorts that rely soley on wind power, and Mammoth, in California, is looking into taking advantage of the dormant volcano it sits atop for geothermal power.
Where to Get Green Skis & Snowboards
Salomon (The Sick Stick won best eco design at IPSO)
Kingswood, featuring bamboo core skis, 100% handmade
Blue House Skis
Green Outdoors Gear
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Skiing & Snowboarding: From the Archives
Dig deeper into green skiing & snowboarding with these links from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.
To kick things off, here's a brief rundown of some of the greenest ski resorts out there.
Before you make vacation plans, look into the 10 Best and Worst Ski Destinations for the Eco-Conscious Skier--it's a synopsis of the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition's grades for the greenest ski options and most unrepentant eco-offenders.
Take a look at this quick, handy guide--5 Tips to Green Your Ski Trip--to execute an environmentally aware ski expedition in style.
Here are 6 Ways to Green Your Snowboarding Trip if you prefer one board to two.
The Aspen Skiing Company is often heralded as the greenest resort in North America.
Get away from the crowded resorts and go cross country skiing 'mongst the beauty and solitude of the great outdoors.
Snowboarding, veggie oil powered cars, MTV, and a punk band meet in this awesomely bizarre project.
Take properly care of your skis, and make them last. Seriously. It'll save money and the environment.
Make sure you're prepared before you hit the slopes--and deck yourself out in these 6 Green Must-Haves for Outdoor Winter Gear.
Two Israelis head out to ski in Austria and find flowers instead. Climate change: ruining both the natural progression of seasons and vacation plans.
Wind energy purchases are one way resorts move to make green gestures. These resorts in Maine do double duty.
Can a Snowboard be Green? Good question. Here are some thoughts on the conundrum.
Some companies really do love sustainable building materials: Arbor snowboards puts bamboo into both boards and their apparel.
Still undecided which slopes to hit this weekend? Ask yourself first, does your ski resort rank green?
Further Reading on Skiing & Snowboarding
Check out these other worthwhile sources for more info on greening your skiing and snowboarding.
How do all those resorts stay open even when there's no snowfall? Snow makers, of course, you say. Oh yeah, well how do snow makers work?
You've got to understand a sport before you can green it. But some of us are a little late to the game when it comes to snowboarding. Feel lost? Get up to speed with everything you need to know about the sport with How Stuff Works' comprehensive guide to how snowboarding works.
Join this helpful green ski/snowboarder community, or simply check in to see what's green in the ski resort world at the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition.
Here is literally more information than you will ever need to know about North Hemisphere snowfall trends, courtesy of the National Climatic Data Center.
Something for skiers and snowboarders everywhere to watch out for: increased chances of avalanches with global warming.
And from a business perspective, here's Fast Company's take on skiing green.
The New York Times runs down a variety of snowboard makers offering green options.
For an easily digestible take on hitting the slopes greenly, Care2 offers this highly readable take on sustainable skiing.
Mr. Greenbiz has even more info on eco-friendly ski and snowboard gear.
SkiNet knows its stuff, and here are the site's picks of 10 green skis.
Sure environmentally friendly snow gear is great, but can it be erotic? First tracks seems to think so--here they report on sexy green skis.