The effects of Skiing/Snowboarding at 

ski resorts

For me skiing is my absolute passion, and until recently I have never thought about the negative environmental impacts skiing has had. Ski resorts are found all over the world and some are obviously much larger than others. Ski resorts, while allowing many to enjoy the sport of skiing in the outdoors, have had numerous negative impacts on the environment. Between travel to the mountains and daily operations of ski resorts there are many negative impacts directly and indirectly caused by the sport.

Me and friends: Okemo, VT

I have had the privilege of being able to travel to the Rocky Mountains twice in my lifetime to ski. I got myself out west with the assistance of a plane both times. Aviation traffic produces an extremely large amount of CO2 every year, and as most know CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) is the biggest contributor to climate change as a green house gas (GHG). These gases heat up our planet by trapping infrared energy in the lower level of our atmosphere. With more green house gasses there are more gas molecules capable of retaining heat in our atmosphere. But, even if I were visiting a local resort here in New Hampshire or Vermont just getting to the mountains is producing green house gases from the tailpipe of my car. Transport to ski mountains is an indirect environmental impact of skiing, but should always be considered when getting yourself anywhere really.

Chairlifts

Other than transportation to the mountains causing CO2 emissions, there’s another form of transportation at all ski resorts which also requires high levels of energy, giving off even more CO2 emissions. All chair lifts, gondollas, or air trams all require high levels of energy to push guests to the top of the moutain. These lifts run all day 8 to 4 and are the reason people attend ski mountains at all.

Chair lifts are why people come to ski resorts and pay hundreds of dollars for passes any resort. In fact, at most resorts you don’t need to pay at all! You can hike your way up to the top and ski down if you like, they’re called “lift passes” for a reason. But lets be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a nice relaxing chairlift ride up to the top of a mountain? The only real work you need to do is make your turns on the way down and hop back on the chair! (Unless you’re waiting for the rest of the group) Some mountains even heat their chair lifts, like Okemo Ski Resort in Ludlow Vermont; (Frequent mountain visited by myself) this is huge benefit to battling the elements while you’re out in the cold. So yes its true we need chairlifts to get the most out of our ski day and get the most runs possible. But while these chairlifts turn day and day again an extremely high amount of energy is required to power these bad boys. Most standard lifts are powered by an electrical motor with a diesel back up motor. Just because these lifts runs electrically doesn’t mean these lifts don’t contribute to GHG emissions. All electrical power is a result of another form of energy transforming into electric. For example fossil fuels; fossil fuels are burned constantly to help power the lights, heat, and all power in buildings around the world. So yes chairlifts contribute to GHG emissions, this is a direct impact to all ecosystems around the world, as green house gasses travel freely around the atmosphere.

Trail clearing

Another negative impact ski resorts have made on the environment is by chopping down trees to create ski-able trails. This has a number of effects on the environment.

The first to mention is by clearing the mountain of its trees these ecosystems experience fragmentation. This limits organisms to living in the woods between trails where before they could have lived throughout. Fragmentation denies organisms the ability to freely travel across the system, limits habitat availability, and limits the connection between the original system and the new small “fragmented” systems.

 

The second affect of trail clearing is the reduction of nutrients from the nutrient pool of these ecosystems. Trees and other vegetation contain organic matter which is stored in the plant itself. This organic matter is stored in these plants until decomposing organism break down their organic matter back into inorganic material. Removing these plants from their ecosystems takes away all of the nutrients stored within the organic matter of their plants. With less material available for other plants after decomposition, the other plants will be have less available nutrients in the system for their own use, as well as plants generations down the line.

The third and last effect trail clearing has had on the environment at ski mountains is sedimentation/ erosion. During the off season months at these resorts the cleared trails remain cleared and don’t have the trees that were there before to hold the soil from being taken away by water runoff. As it rains, or as the snow melts; water runs off down the slope carrying sediments from the soil with it. These picked up sediments have the potential to reach fresh water streams. Excess sedimentation into freshwater streams is very detrimental to the niche of most aquatic organisms that depend on clean fresh water, such as brook trout.

Sustainable Skiing/ Snowboarding

Although going to a ski resort can be considered unsustainable there are ways that skiers and riders can get their fill without having negative impacts on the environment. Its called “earn your turns”; this phrase suggests not to use a resorts chairlift and trails, instead earn your turns by hiking through the beautiful back country to the top of the mountain and skiing down after. Although this is hard work and a challenge there is a reward for the hike up, its your ride down! Many skiers and riders out west have started earning their turns more and more. My cousin currently living in Denver Colorado is a dedicated skier and will soon reach his goal of skiing 12 months out of the year! This was only made possible by earning his turns and hiking up high enough in altitude where the snow sticks around all year long, the resorts in Colorado don’t stay open 12 months a year. Another benefit to earning your turns is that you can ski anywhere there’s a hill and snow! Go explore your local terrain at your  own leisure, who needs a lift anyway? A recent development in snowboard technology has allowed riders to keep up with skiers on the traverse up the mountain with a new style of snowboard called a split board. These snowboards act as cross country skis on the hike up while it’s “split”, and stick it back together before your descent for a smooth surf back down the hill. To quickly learn more about why you should earn your turns and split boarding visit – https://gearpatrol.com/2015/11/17/earn-turns-winter/ .