Snow sports and the term ‘environmentally friendly’ are not two things that generally go hand in hand. Just this year, a study by Seth Wynes and Kimberly A. Nicholas was published highlighting the most impactful steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint throughout our lives. Right at the top were going carless and not flying. Not ideal when these are common modes of transport to our favourite ski destinations. But we’re not going to tell you to stop skiing and snowboarding. Oh no. In fact, there are plenty of things you can do to make sure your winter holiday has less of an impact on the planet. We’ve even compiled this handy list of potential environmental problems you might run into when planning your holiday, or even your season, and tips on how to solve them. And the best part? You can apply most of these fixes to your daily life, too!
Problem: Getting here
It’s a well-known fact that both flying and driving are not sustainable forms of transport. Various studies have shown that around 60% – 70% of a ski resort’s yearly carbon emissions will come from holiday makers’ modes of transport to and from resort. Just think about how busy Geneva airport is over Christmas and the following traffic jams from Taninges to Avoriaz!
Solution: Take the train
Sustainability consultancy firm, Best Foot Forward (now part of Anthesis), published an article in 2011 detailing the stats of getting the train compared to driving and flying. One person taking the train from London to the Alps creates about 14kg of CO2. One person flying to resort, plus transfers on either side creates over 100kg of CO2, one way, while driving creates around 225kg per car. The numbers speak for themselves. It can be pretty expensive and take longer if you don’t live near London, but taking the train does mean you don’t have to worry about luggage restrictions, airport queuing and you get more leg room.
Problem: Ski resorts in general
Constant property development, the drastic population increase throughout the winter months, not to mention the maintenance of the lift infrastructure (but we’ll get to that later) all mean that ski resorts don’t have the best rep for being green. But that’s all changing…
Solution: Research your resort
Many resorts across Europe are taking pains to become more environmentally friendly and (not that we’re biased or anything) the PDS is at the forefront. Avoriaz won the Environmental Award for Ecological Developments at the 2012 World Snow Awards, while Châtel is one of the few proud owners of a Flocon Vert, the official sign of recognition from French environmental charity, Mountain Riders. However, more and more resorts are taking steps to improve the sustainability of their snowmaking, as well as the efficiency of their lifts and buildings, so have a look into it before you choose your next ski destination.
Ski resorts are breeding ground for property development, but often have the problem of empty beds once the winter is over. This means energy and resources have been spent on building and maintaining properties that may be left sitting empty for over half the year.
Solution: Research your accommodation
Another study published earlier this year highlighted the problem with the ‘stop driving and flying’ study, which is that you can’t regulate things like flying and owning a car, because they’re a personal choice or a necessity. What can be regulated though, are buildings. Building projects are becoming subject to stricter and stricter guidelines to make them greener, which is not only good for the planet, it’s good for your health. If you can find any information on the property developer of your winter accommodation, look them up; you might be pleasantly surprised.
According to Mountain Riders, tourists account for 36% of rubbish found on the mountain every year. That’s cigarette butts, plastic bottles, wrappers and cans left on the mountain that take hundreds of years to decompose while leaking toxic substances into the soil and water.
Solution: Leave no trace
This is a common phrase among climbers and mountaineers, and should be in skiing, too. The ski hill may be more populated than a remote summit or crag, but it’s still part of the natural environment. If you smoke, invest in a pocket ashtray; if you don’t, call people out when you see them throwing cigarette butts off the lift. Get a flask so you’re not buying a single-use plastic bottle of water or fizzy drink every time you stop (you can even get soft ones that compress as you drink from them). Take your rubbish of the mountain with you, return your lift pass (as a rule, they’re recyclable), use the recycling bins in town and remember to bring your own shopping bags. The possibilities are endless!
Lifts, piste-bashers, snow making. A lot of fuel and energy goes into keeping ski resorts going, particularly during a bad snow year.
Solution: Try Going for a Tour
Why not take a day away from the lifts and go ski touring, split boarding or snow shoeing? You’re not relying on lifts, you’re saving money on a lift pass and you’re getting out into good old fashioned nature. There are plenty of ski schools in Morzine, Avoriaz and Les Gets that offer lessons in touring, as well as plenty of options for guided snow shoe tours.
The McCartneys have warned us: eating meat is notoriously bad for the planet. But when you think about any food – from quinoa to chocolate – and the amount of water, packaging and transport it goes through to get from its point of origin to your plate, the results can be pretty mind bending.
Solution: Eat Local
One of the best things about going on holiday is trying local delicacies and the Alps are famous for their amazing food. Locally-made cheeses, honeys, confitures, cured meats and wines are all readily available in Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz. By buying and eating locally, you’re funding home-grown businesses and cutting out a large portion of the transportation and packaging.
Ski and snowboard gear is expensive and often uses industrial processes to make. With a lot of outerwear and base layers being made from man-made fibres like Nylon and polyester, ski and snowboard clothing doesn’t do great in the sustainability stakes. Especially if it sits in your cupboard collecting dust for most of the year.
Solution: Make it last
Brands with a strong eco-presence like Patagonia are increasingly starting to warn us that the best way to shop sustainably is to just not shop. Or to buy second hand. Patagonia even run a programme where they fix your old clothes for you so you can keep wearing them. The message to consume is all too freely conveyed in today’s advertising, but the best way save resources and not waste materials is to keep hold of your gear instead of continually replacing it. But if you do need new gear, try to stick to things you know will be hardwearing, and buy more natural materials like merino wool, organic cotton, hemp, beech and bamboo.
Problem: Poor education
The Wynes and Nicolas study also brought to light the fact that many people are poorly educated on environmental matters. While encouragement to recycle, use energy-saving lightbulbs and wash your clothes on cold is pretty commonplace, factors like eating less meat, forgoing a car and being careful about where we fly are not.
Solution: Annoy people with constant environmental facts
One of the most important things we can do is not only strive to live more responsibly, but pass the message on to those around us. Particularly children and teenagers. Whether it’s setting a good example to your kids or calling out your friends when they take pointless drives or can’t survive without their daily meat fix, at least the message is being conveyed!