Monday, 11 March 2013

Responsible Skiing

As the European ski season heads to the end of another year, it’s time for a post on the sustainability of the ski industry.  With climate change becoming an increasingly present reality, snowfall patterns are likely to change and the ski industry affected. We need to assess not only the impact of changing climates on skiing, but the skier’s impact on a changing climate. “Responsible Travel” has been a phrase used in the tourism industry for some time now. This encompasses more than just environmental responsibility, but ensuring that your travel is culturally and socially responsible too, as Responsible Travel put it; “travel like a local”. My visit to the Responsible Skiing Conference in October 2012 gave me a chance to explore this through the eyes of the ski industry.

Would it shock you if I said that nearly 75% of annual (2007) greenhouse gas emissions from Saint Martin de Belleville (Les 3 Vallées, France) came from tourists travelling to the resort? And that’s from flying. Whilst we would all assume that flying was the cheapest and quickest option, Snowcarbon would love to differ. So many people don’t even think about options aside from flying and sometimes driving. But what about the train? Not only can this compete on price, but also travel time, and you can often fit an extra days skiing in, as well as dramatically reducing your carbon footprint. Check out their most recent video for proof:

And now to the slopes. Don’t you just love those huge expanses of fresh white pistes, dotted with snow-covered trees? The environmental impacts of this are obvious; large-scale tree-felling, the loss of a natural carbon sink, machine grading of the land and all of the knock-on effects that come from the removal of trees. And then what about that continuous supply of snow that seems to appear even on those bluebird days? The long list of impacts of artificial snow-making include an excessive use of water, chemical inputs to natural ecosystems, alteration of water courses, and high energy use. With shifting climate patterns, it ensures a more reliable snow cover for the industry, and Scotland has recently dabbled in it for help. But it does still require low temperatures in order for the snow to form, so can it really work as a sustainable solution, especially with all of the impacts involved?

And then there’s your accommodation, which brings with it all the “normal” sustainability issues such as energy use, heating, food choices, water consumption, excessive laundry. . . The graph again shows that heating tourists’ accommodation is a huge chunk of the emissions within Saint Martin de Belleville. This is an area that has recently seen a shift in many European resorts. There is now much more recognition for “responsible” accommodation providers, which can be seen through companies such as Green Traveller, Responsible Travel and Much Better Adventures and cover a wide range of choices such as cross-country skiing, which places less pressure on the environment, “eco-chalets”, or staying closer to home in Scotland. If you prefer tour operators, then you can check out their sustainability policies which are usually widely available on their websites.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, there are ways to make your ski holiday guilt-free. You can make your entire resort selection based on environmental or “responsible” factors. For example, Austria has banned the use of chemicals in artificial snow-making, to maintain an organic farming area. Travel to Zermatt by train, and with cars banned in resort, look out for the silent electric buggies zooming around stacked with luggage. Or make simple choices such as eating in a locally-owned and run restaurant with local food specialities, choose not to have your towels changed every day in the hotel, or swap your skis for some snow shoes for a day to reduce your pressure on the environment.

 Obviously this doesn’t cover the whole area of Responsible Skiing, but it is possible to make some conscious decisions to make your holiday that bit more sustainable, and to give the European ski season a bit more longevity. Ultimately we need to protect the environment that we want to use.

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