How bad is skiing for the environment, anyway?
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
When my parents got married, they did it on skis. I myself have been skiing since I was 2 years old. It’s a staple of all my winters and something I look forward to every summer – not to mention it was a huge factor in deciding which college I wanted to go to (regardless of the fact that COVID put my skiing in jeopardy). break as soon as I started my freshman year). This led me to have a passion for the environment and the outdoors, and it pushed me into a community of active outdoor enthusiasts who all care about fighting climate change and preserving our natural playgrounds. to explore as long as possible.
But, when I sit in stopped traffic, watching hundreds of cars emit copious amounts of carbon dioxide into the already changing atmosphere, waiting to visit a mountain with much of its trees, -wood and its foliage have been cut in the name of one of my favorite activities, I can’t help but wonder: how can a sport that attracts so many outdoor enthusiasts be so environmentally questionable?
It’s painful for skiers and snowboarders to admit that the winter activity they love is killing themselves. As we fight to preserve our winters and keep alpine sports alive in increasingly warm temperatures, ski resorts are silently undermining the efforts of their bosses.
According to Science Magazine Eos, 90% of western ski resorts will not be financially viable by 2085 due to climate change. For an industry worth billions of dollars, this is staggering.
This leaves skiers with the ultimate question: do I keep skiing while I can, or do I stop doing what I love to try to preserve the sport forever?
As with all climate puzzles, the answer is: it’s complicated.
First, you need to separate the different niches of the sport. Cross-country skiing isn’t really the problem here. It has been part of many different cultures and traditions for over 5,000 years, and despite the negative impacts on wildlife and its contributions to deforestation, its environmental impact is minimal compared to downhill skiing. Its carbon footprint is “as low as the gasoline it takes to get there”, and although it’s a tough sport, it can be just as exciting as downhill skiing. For those who really can’t morally align with the big ski resorts, cross-country skiing may be the change you need.
Alpine skiing, which I consider to be the older, richer, doucher brother of cross-country skiing (don’t get me wrong, I love it), is the real deal when it comes to alpine sports and their environmental impact. As someone who grew up on the ski slopes, it’s hard to admit, but when it comes to the impact on wildlife, deforestation, water use and fossil fuel use, downhill skiing is the real culprit.
Those who run large alpine ski resorts aren’t historically the most environmentally (or ethically, if we’re being honest) people in the world, either. In 2019, former International Ski Federation President Gian Franco Kasper said he preferred working with “dictators to environmentalists” when it came to the ski industry.
Vail Resorts Management Company is another controversial billion-dollar figurehead in the world of downhill skiing, operating 41 resorts around the world. Besides overcrowded resorts, dodgy season opening dates, and horrible treatment of workers, Vail Resorts has undoubtedly been a huge playmaker when it comes to carbon emissions and water usage. That being said, he is committed to achieving a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2030.
So yes, skiing is currently bad for the environment. Embarrassingly. But, as Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company said in a 2018 interview with National Geographic, so is everything else.
“It’s not skiing that’s the problem, it’s how we drive our economy. Nothing can be eco-friendly in a world running on fossil fuels,” Auden said.
Is Auden biased in telling people it’s good to ski? Sure. Am I also biased in writing this article as a skier? Certainly. Do I think I will single-handedly save the ski industry by not paying for an Ikon or Epic Pass this year? Certainly not.
The sad reality is that the ski industry is not an anomaly in terms of environmental impact. As Auden said, the issue of valuing benefits over the environment is a global phenomenon at this point, not just Vail Resorts.
More resorts are making promises like Vail, though. Aspen is slowly but surely turning to renewable energy for its snow cannons and ski lifts. The Ikon Corporation has partnered with “Shred for Sustainability” in 2021 to plant 22,500 trees in North America. Change is happening – is it happening fast enough for us to fall into our middle ages? Only time will tell.
Ultimately, skiers, it’s up to you how to tackle your contributions to climate change that skiing brings. All I ask is that you acknowledge it. Whether it’s saving money and donating gear, spending more time cross-country skiing, carpooling to ski resorts, or contacting ski resort CEOs with questions on their climate mission (here is contact information for Vail Resorts), there’s bound to be something you’re comfortable doing to help reduce your impact.
For now, the environmental impacts of skiing don’t necessarily mean you’re not allowed to get out and enjoy the mountain air and fresh snow. Appreciating nature and what it gives us will always be important, and if skiing is the way you want to do it, then go for it – don’t take it for granted anymore.