The Green Resort Guide compiles information about the environmental impact of ski resorts. Two years ago, the data was woolly and not comprehensive. Now, ski resorts and tour operators are demonstrating more interest in environmental issues. Perhaps the recent lack of snow has focused minds on global warming. Whatever the reason, we should all do our part to protect the environment.
The Ski Resort Impact on Wildlife
The effects of ski resorts and sports on wildlife are often emphasized in the literature. However, the impacts of winter recreation and travel on many taxa and species are not well understood. While it has been shown that human activities disrupt alpine and subalpine habitats, there are many other root factors that affect wildlife, including land development and movement. Limited research on the impact of "ski disturbances" has been conducted, but there is evidence that it negatively affects certain taxa.
Ski resorts have many impacts on local biodiversity, including the loss of habitats that are essential to several species because of the runs. Clear-cutting for ski trails requires significant amounts of forest, which impacts many species. A recent study found that bird diversity decreased in forest remnants between slopes, and disturbance levels increased near open areas. In addition, a recent expansion of the Breckenridge ski resort has raised concerns about the future habitat of Canada lynxes. Fortunately, the developer of this ski resort has agreed to protect the lynx habitat elsewhere in the region.
As the global demand for outdoor recreation increases, so does the potential to disturb wildlife habitats. As a result, many animals living in mountains face increased challenges, from habitat fragmentation to noise caused by ski lift construction. Despite the risks, ski resorts often do not take these factors into consideration when promoting their activities. Therefore, ski resorts are not only important recreation activities for people, but they also harm wildlife.
Deforestation of the Environment
Ski resorts disturb large swaths of alpine forest. They cut down hundreds of acres of vegetation for chair lifts and trail upkeep. And while trees may look friendly, they actually store huge amounts of carbon. Cutting down trees damages the carbon cycle. The carbon emitted from the burning of fossil fuels can cause devastating effects. This problem is made worse by the fact that ski resorts contribute to deforestation.
There are many different ways to minimize the environmental impact of ski resorts. One way is to become an environmental steward by working for a ski resort. Look for a ski resort that works to restore the native forests. These areas can help improve the local wildlife habitat. Or, volunteer at one of these resorts and donate your services to help preserve the environment. This way, you can make a difference in the world and get paid at the same time.
Another way to reduce the environmental impact of ski resorts is to switch to alternative energy sources. Some ski resorts have adopted a carbon offset program. Others have implemented recycling programs and composting bins. One ski resort has introduced a free shuttle service and has a fleet of hybrid buses. It also provides solar panels for public buildings. Lech, Austria, has a comprehensive program to reduce the environmental impact of ski resorts by investing in a biomass plant and installing free buses.
Water Use Data for Snow
The French conservation group Mountain Wilderness says skiing is a "cancer of the Alps." One hectare of slope needs 4,000 cubic meters of water per season to cover it, compared to 1,700 cubic meters for one hectare of corn. In fact, ski resorts use as much water as about 1.5 million people in the Alps. Some regions use tap water and others use river water.
The use of artificial snow to create the white stuff requires huge amounts of water. Some resorts have started using proteins to make it freeze at higher temperatures. However, these studies are inconclusive. Some resorts have not used proteins. The Austrian Tyrol resorts make artificial snow from pure water. The water used in artificial snow-making is sourced from local rivers or reservoirs constructed to hold rainwater. Many of these reservoirs undergo environmental impact assessments to ensure that they do not pose any environmental hazard. Fortunately, these reservoirs are often natural areas that blend in harmoniously with the landscape.
Climate change is affecting the natural habitat in many areas, and resorts are struggling to maintain a consistent snow cover. The economic health of a ski resort depends on snow depth, which makes it necessary to invest in artificial snow-making systems. This process consumes vast amounts of energy and water, which impacts the local ecosystem. The massive construction of hotels and restaurants adds to the water use problem. This new sustainability mindset is awakening the ski industry to the importance of its impact on the environment.
Fossil Fuel Energy
In addition to skiing, the ski industry is one of the largest consumers of fossil fuel energy, which produces greenhouse gases and contributes to global warming. A single ski lift in Aspen, Colorado, uses the equivalent energy to power 3.8 households for a month. Ski resorts also deploy a nightly fleet of trail groomers, which use five gallons of diesel per hour and emit nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide.
These emissions are in addition to the carbon and particulate emissions produced by skiers. In response to climate change, ski resorts have begun reducing their energy use by implementing renewable energy and carbon offsets.
Vail Resorts, which owns and operates large ski resorts in North America, has set a goal of reaching zero carbon footprint by 2030. Since 2008, Vail Resorts has cut energy usage by 19 percent and aims to buy 100% renewable energy. The resort is also a pioneer in the US by using 100 percent renewable energy. Squaw Valley, which is the largest ski area in the United States, is partnered with a local utility provider to install a battery storage facility that will allow it to use renewable energy during blackouts or when the demand for energy drops.
Another example is the Carbon Neutral Project, which uses solar panels to heat the base lodge. Big Sky is planning to be 100% carbon neutral by 2030. It is also working to use renewable energy to power all of its 38 lifts. In addition to renewable energy, Big Sky also uses solar arrays to power avalanche beacon checkers. It also uses snow grooming vehicles that are guided by GPS, which saves 244 tonnes of CO2 per year. Despite its small size, Big Sky is setting high standards.
Ski resorts create an environment that has multiple negative environmental effects, including soil erosion. The construction process of these ski resorts disrupts the alpine environment and alters soil properties, affecting plant communities. Restoration techniques are necessary to mitigate the effects and rehabilitate ecosystems. The use of reclaimed topsoil is an important step toward reducing the environmental impacts of ski resort construction. In the case of disturbed graded slopes, plants are more likely to establish primary vegetation succession, which can prolong site rehabilitation and soil amelioration.
The construction process of ski resorts also leads to severe erosion and ongoing siltation problems. In addition to soil erosion, ski resorts may disrupt the habitats of animals and other plants, resulting in the loss of species and the disruption of migration routes.
Human activities can also contribute to the contamination of lakes and groundwater downstream. Such impacts should not be underestimated and should be considered when planning for a ski resort.
The construction of pipelines to distribute water and compressed air to snow guns may affect areas prone to erosion. Pipelines also affect areas with high rates of soil erosion on ski slopes. Thus, ski resorts' environmental impact is significant. Therefore, careful planning and design are essential to minimize ski resorts' environmental impact. They are a good place to start, but they are not the only cause of erosion. Listed below are some common impacts that ski resorts create:
Making Skiing More Sustainability
There are many opportunities in the world of sustainability for ski resorts and ski run construction. Besides incorporating green technology and renewable energy, ski resorts can also adopt self-improvement strategies to reduce their carbon footprints. The environmental management system (EMS) is a self-improvement tool that encourages resorts to be proactive in their environmental stewardship. In addition to the EMS, the Sustainable Slopes Program is also a voluntary program that is used in partnership with state and federal agencies. Additionally, there are grants available for resort sustainability projects.
More than 40 ski areas are taking on the sustainability challenge. Some are going beyond carbon emission reductions to reduce their water use and waste on ski run soils. Some are even partnering with conservation groups and recycling programs. Despite their efforts, many of these initiatives are invisible to skiers, allowing them to still enjoy a seamless experience. Listed below are some tips for making your ski vacation more sustainable. And remember, sustainability doesn't have to be expensive.
Some ski resorts are taking the NSAA climate challenge seriously. The Alta Environmental Center, for example, is working to reduce its carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020. They're also installing solar arrays and encouraging eco-education initiatives across the mountain. Other sustainable initiatives at the resort include diverting food waste from landfills through the Wasatch Resource Recovery program. Other initiatives include removing takeaway containers from Buckhorn Kitchen and using the Snowbird RIDE app to encourage customers to carpool.
Solutions and Alternatives
Ski resorts and the winter sports industry consume vast amounts of water. In fact, one hectare of piste requires 4,000 cubic meters of water over a season. Compared to that, one hectare of corn needs only 1,700 cubic meters of water. In the Alps, artificial snow consumes as much water as 1.5 million people.
This is not a small amount of water - some regions use tap water for snowmaking and ski runs, while others use river water. One example of a ski resort's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint is its gondolas and chair lifts. In Aspen, for example, the Cirque Lift Power has become a symbol of its sustainability initiatives.
Using wind energy to generate electricity, the Cirque Lift Power is 100% wind-powered and is a huge step in the city of Aspen's environmental goals.
The resort also uses minimally-invasive construction techniques, allowing crews to manually haul materials instead of using heavy machinery. It is estimated that the carbon reduction is equivalent to three times the amount of carbon emissions Aspen Snowmass produces in a year.
Although the industry has long been condemned for its detrimental effects on the environment, the National Ski Areas Association has been working to promote sustainable practices among ski resorts. The association has published lists of its members that address these issues of the impact of skiing. A comprehensive list of such initiatives is available on the NSAA website. The Association also has a list of links to environmental specific web pages, which ski resorts can visit to learn about their practices.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Content Creator / Editor
Fred Felton is a copywriter, editor and social media specialist based in Durban, South Africa. He has over 20 years of experience in creating high end content. He has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world. Currently Fred specialises in the winter outdoors space, focussing on skiing and snowboarding. He is also a keynote speaker and has presented talks and workshops in South Africa.