Think all you leave is tracks on the snow?

Sustainable skiing

How to become a greener skier

by Justin Francis, co-founder and Managing Director of Responsible Travel

Our mountains are some of the most pristine natural environments in the world. These wilderness areas provide enjoyment for a great many tourists and local people, as well as livelihoods, money and jobs for mountain communities. They must be conserved for the future.

What could be more sustainable than skiing? All you leave behind is tracks in the snow - right? At first glance, skiing might appear highly sustainable, but in fact there are some very significant environmental and cultural impacts:
  • Most downhill ski slopes are graded - this involves the removal of trees and flattening of slopes to create large areas for skiing. The addition of large pilons and ski lifts creates further environmental scarring.
  • Due to climate change we expect more resorts to be developed at higher altitudes - migrating the negative impacts higher up the mountains.
  • As a further consequence of climate change the use of snow machines has increased. In some cases they draw water unsustainably from local water courses, or from manmade reservoirs - which impact the water table. In other cases, higher levels of minerals and nutrients used in the creation of artificial snow leach back into the soil when it melts - altering the growth of native plants.
  • Litter discarded in the mountains does not degrade - even natural waste such as orange peel can take between six months and two years to decompose, and cigarette butts five years to degrade. When we ski over new tree shoots in, or under, the snow we destroy them.
  • Wildlife is disturbed by ski developments and skiers; the dwindling Colorado population of the Canadian Lynx being probably the most notorious example.
  • While a significant number of jobs are created by tourism, the highly seasonal nature of the work means that much of it is taken by overseas staff, including chalet maids - which limits local employment. The cultural landscape of many mountain villages is changed by overseas ownership of local properties that are only occupied for a very small part of the year, and by relatively large numbers of tourists swamping villages.
Seven tips for more sustainable skiing
1.Travel by train by where possible, its often more convenient and reduces carbon emissions. This is something skiers should keep their eyes on: every one degree increase in temperature would result in the closeure of 100 Alpine slopes. Rail Europe's Snow Train to the Alps departs on Friday evening. Enjoy 8 days on the slopes, return the following Saturday evening!

2. If travelling to the US, make sure your resort has signed up to the National Ski Area Association Sustainable Slope Environmental Charter. For other areas ask your operator if the resort is International Standards Organisation (ISO) 14001 accredited. You can also read ski areas' environmental score cards here.

Ski lifts 3. Ask your tour operator for their responsible tourism policy. If they haven't got one they probably are not taking it seriously.

4. Consider ski touring, cross country skiing or snow shoeing. They are less dependent on graded slopes and ski lifts and create less environmental impacts. Responsible Travel has a great selection of these holidays here.

5. Take all your litter home with you,. And if you see litter just swoop down and pick it up!

6. Stay in locally owned accommodation, rather than chalets owned by overseas tour companies - unless they can convince you that they provide significant local employment, train and develop local people, use local services and produce, and that the accommodation has been built to high environmental standards. Have a look at some of our responsible skiing accommodations. Eat in local restaurants and use ski guides from the local community where possible.

7 Respect the natural habitat of mountain animals and plants. by taking care not to damage vegetation, knock off branches or damage shoots when skiing. Many areas are out of bounds to protect the natural habitat of animals and plants - not just for safety reasons.

Interested? Take a look at our skiing holidays or read more tips on travelling responsibly.
Written by Justin Francis
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