By Patrick Thorne, Creator of Save Our Snow
I’ve been following ski area developments each year around the world since the late 1980s, and it more than 20 years now since ‘the environment’ really moved up the agenda.
When I first started working as a ski travel writer in the 1980s ski resorts were still expanding fast and if an environmental concern was raised about some big new area, clearing land and installing a lift, the complainant was dismissed as an extremist just wanting to spoil everyone’s fun.
Since around 2000 though that’s all changed, ski resort expansion in Europe and North America has all but stopped and most resorts have environmental experts on their staff and put these considerations first when planning changes. Most have been actively cutting their CO2 contributions for years and a sizable percentage now export more green energy to the grid than they use themselves, producing solar, hydro or wind power on-site.
They’re ideally placed really – solar panels are more effective at altitude (so long as you can keep the snow off), wind power is greater in the mountains and there’s plenty of rushing water when the snow melts – so a lot of natural energy-producing potential.
I set up SaveOurSnow.com in 2004 to provide news and a directory of information on what ski areas are doing to fight climate change and am pleased to report every year brings ever greater steps forward.
But read a lot of media reports and you’d get the impression resorts were Turkeys voting for Christmas, blindly rushing to their own doom by actively encouraging climate change.
The reality though is the problem isn’t the resorts, it’s us. Study after study has shown that the mountains are suffering feaster temperature rises than the urban areas that are the prime creators of the emissions that speed up climate change. When we’re in the mountains our personal carbon footprints are usually much lower than they are in our day to day lives back home.
Then there’s the fact we want to go skiing and snowboarding and they feed our habit. It’s getting from where we are to where they are that’s the big issue – CO2 emissions from transportation to the mountains can be anything from 60% (flying to the Alps) to over 95% (flying to North America) of our total ski holiday emissions.
So What Can We Do?
If you care enough to want to try to make a difference in what’s now a climate emergency (and the reality is we’ll all need to care a lot more to make a big enough difference), we need to have a good, hard look at where we go skiing and how we go skiing.
It’s not something we don’t already know, but travelling overland is generally much better than flying. There’s a huge variation but typically travelling by train, in a coach, or in a full, fuel-efficient car (obviously an electric one if you’re wealthy enough to own one) is best.
And whilst we all love to nip to the mountains for a cheeky, short ski break, that obviously multiplies the travel aspect so if you have the choice it is better to either make those short trips overland or make more longer and few shorter trips. That is, of course, easier said than done, but it is the reality of it.
Alas, the hope we would emerge from the pandemic lockdown and the period of drastically reduced emissions it gave us and become much smarter about our impact on the environment isn’t looking promising. One of the first moves Eurostar made as it sought to cut costs was to cancel the direct ski train between the UK and the French Alps – the single most environmentally friendly way of travel between the two.
But fear not, it’s still pretty easy to use the train, changing in Paris for the French Alps or heading to the Austrian or Swiss Alps by train. For all the info visit dedicate ski-holidays-by-rail website: SnowCarbon.co.uk and whilst you’re at it sign the petition they’ve organised to Save The Ski Train.
You can also choose to head to one of the resorts that are 100% green energy powered, perhaps staying in an apartment, chalet or hotel that is carbon neutral to really tick every box. But if you have to fly to get there, it’s probably going to be rather self-defeating.
Be Greener Every Day – Not Just When You’re Skiing
We’re all warming the planet every day and whilst we focus on our ski holidays when we think about the climate and melting snow we don’t always join all the dots and realise we’re contributing to the problem by our actions year-round, wherever we are, not just when we go skiing.
So again it’s all the usual advice – try to drive less and walk, cycle or use public transport (virus pandemic permitting), switch to a green energy provider and, dare we say it, try to eat less meat. In terms of your ski gear – reduce, reuse and recycle. There are a growing number of brands that encourage that, with Patagonia one of the leaders.
You can also sign up with environmental organisations (www.saveoursnow.com/organisations/), Protect Our Winters (POW) began in America but has become the global voice for activism on climate change in snowsports with POW UK now well established.
Carbon offsetting? Well, the jury remains out on that one. The main concern is that it can be an easy get out from actually doing any of the above. But as with wearing face masks to prevent the virus spread, it would come under “better than doing nothing at all”.
Ideally though, do everything! Otherwise, do as much as you can. And in any case, try to do something.
For More Information:
www.saveoursnow.com/green-resorts/ …the resorts that are powered by 100% green power (or getting there…)
www.saveoursnow.com/green-hotels/ …hotels, chalets and apartments that are, or get close to, carbon-neutrality by generating their own green power and being super energy efficient.
www.saveoursnow.com/eco-initiatives/ …ski resorts are always working to cut their CO2 emissions further, and there are literally hundreds of different ways they’re doing it. This page lists some of them.
www.saveoursnow.com/glacier-melt/ …this is a bit depressing, but climate-change deniers like to point at a big snowfall and say “ooh look its snowing, climate change must be a myth” (bless their simple souls!) This page lists glaciers in every country that has one (there’s about 50) and details how they’re melting, year in, year out, as the planet warms. In many countries, the consequences of this are much more serious than the loss of ski slopes.