‘Eco skiing’: does it exist? Skiing and sustainability are typically considered (ski) poles apart. Rather than slowing to a snow plow, however, the popularity of the winter sport is only accelerating.
Eco skiing needs to become a phrase we hear far more frequently.
Environmentally friendly and responsible travel is certainly under the spotlight in 2020, and the standard skiing holiday needs to be taken to task.
It might seem like an innocent activity. Aren’t skiers simply out in the wilds of nature, enjoying mountain peaks that sit miles above the smokey cities? Unfortunately, the icy idyll comes with some horribly ironic riders.
Why Skiing Isn’t Always Eco
The snow covered slopes that tourists travel so far for are under threat from their fans. The average week of skiing requires air miles, warm and waterproof clothing and equipment, resorts full of machinery, ski lifts, snowcats and cannons, heated hotels with spas and plastic covered toiletries… You get the not so pretty picture.
French conservation group, Mountain Wilderness, describe skiing as ‘the cancer of the Alps’ due to the fact that 4,000 cubic meters of water are needed to cover a single hectare of piste, per season. According to Live Sustainably Now, excluding flights to and from your holiday, an average day of skiing amounts to around 40 pounds of CO2. That’s the same as using two gallons of gasoline.
So, is the eco answer to simply stop skiing? While we do all need to drastically cut down on our travel, this solution is not so straightforward in reality.
How Skiing Can Become A More Eco Friendly Activity
Many remote mountain communities were helped out of poverty by the tourism that skiing brought them at the end of the 19th Century and they depend on its custom to this day. Some might deem this redundant in the face of the climate crisis. Still, whatever side of the piste you sit on, skiers and snowboarders are not going to abandon the alpine adrenalin any time soon. That’s why it is well worth knowing how to ease the unsustainable symptoms and lower the impact of your skiing holiday.
Luckily, technological innovations, environmental schemes, responsible companies and conscious travellers are making the whole snow scene look a lot greener. Here are our top tips for making your skiing holiday as eco as possible. By making conscious swaps to eco ski jackets and sustainable dining options you can avoid the avalanche of environmental afflictions and hit the piste with as low an impact as possible.
Eco Travel To Your Ski Resort
Let’s begin at the beginning. Nope, not the nursery slope, but the eco travel to and from your mountainous destination. Before you make any tracks in the snow, you’ll make a vapour trail that will catapult your carbon footprint literally into the air. Research by sustainability activator Anthesis shows that a one-way flight from London to the Austrian town of Zell am See-Kaprun generates 111kg of CO2 per passenger.
It is about 80% more efficient than a flight, generating around 23kg of CO2 per person. Another major eco plus of this mode of transport is that it runs right to the slopes of many Austrian resorts, cutting out the need for a second commute from the airport.
On top of the environmental upsides, this is a far more relaxing, fun and romantic form of travel. You can sleep through your journey and wake up to enjoy breakfast on board whilst being wowed by the stunning mountain vistas. To top it all off, covering all that ground overnight means that you can enjoy an extra two days of skiing!
What about that final 20% though? You can take the, somewhat controversial, route of carbon offsetting your travel. There is no shortage of tree planting schemes you can get involved with or, since these are falling under an increasing amount of disrepute, it is well worth looking into certified carbon offsets.
There are also certain ski and travel companies who will reward you for embracing more sustainable travel.
Mendi Holidays, for example, offer a 100€ discount per person if you do not fly to their resort and encourage car sharing wherever they can. Likewise, Positive Travel are a social enterprise as well as a travel operator. Their profits go to the Global Forest Fund and other forest conservation and reforestation community project oriented initiatives.
Eco Eating On Your Skiing Holiday
What you eat is a key ingredient of any eco skiing holiday.
The chills, the thrills and, depending on your level, the total wipeouts: you work up an appetite when you’re skiing or snowboarding all day. You need to fuel yourself well for winter sports and, if you under prepare, the planet can pay. There are a number of ways to achieve a more sustainable ratio of calories to carbon.
One edible issue is that food has to get transported up mountains to feed skiers. This means that it has done quite a few road miles by the time it reaches the mountainside cafes and restaurants. These establishments also often use a lot of plastic cutlery, cups, straws and napkins etc.
You can counteract this to an extent by self catering as much as you can. Enjoying hearty, seasonal and simple home cooked meals at the beginning and the end of your day will cut down on carbon and plastic. What could fuel you better for a day of skiing than a bowl of porridge? And, when the evening and the apres roll around, much of the veg that’s seasonal in the chilly months is perfect for a hearty soup or stew.
Tucking a thermos and/or a keepcup into your jacket or backpack is another way you can avoid plastic cups and have something warm to sip on the slopes. Taking a packed lunch and some reusable cutlery and straws will also save you money, help you avoid the crowds and have more control over where your food has come from.
The food served on many European mountainsides tends to be heavily meat and dairy based, which gives it a high carbon footprint. Raclettes and fondues are part of the holiday fun for many. If you’re going to indulge, you can lower your impact by doing so in moderation and going for the most traditional cheeses that have been aged and preserved through the seasons. To lighten your footprint further, and stick to any plant-based principles you have, bring a packed lunch.
If self catering is just not up your slope there are some great greener dining options out there. Ski Beat show what is possible when it comes to lowering your skiing carbon ‘food print’. This company:
- Use only ceramic or compostable cups for hot drinks.
- Work with local suppliers and producers to reduce transportation and contribute to local communities.
- Have chefs who are trained to prepare a high quality vegan menu.
Go For Eco Skiing Gear
Activewear is not always eco, and skiing has to be one of the most kit heavy activities out there. Even if you hire your skis, poles and helmets, there are jackets, gloves, socks, goggles… Or, some might say, plastic, plastic, plastic.
A disquieting report from Greenpeace also warns about how common PFC chemicals are in active and outdoor wear and how they are devastating to wildlife.
Renting your equipment is a good way to lower the impact of your ski kit. This is an especially sustainable, not to mention a more financially efficient, option if you are taking your kids skiing, as you won’t need to replace their gear as they grow.
Buying second hand equipment is another sustainable solution. If you live anywhere near a dry ski slope, they will often have a selection of pre-worn gear, and may well host sales or swishes when the ski season slides onto the horizon. If you like to look stylish on the slopes you can bag some great vintage pieces, but make sure they’re warm!
If you’re nifty with a needle and a sewing machine, then you really will be able to keep your ski gear going for a long time.
If you’re not, all is not lost. Depending on where you ski, you might be lucky enough to land upon Patagonia on their Worn Wear Tour. They take a bespoke wooden snow trailer around several destinations in Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. You can simply ski up and get your broken zippers and frayed jackets repaired for free! Tips and tuition on how to fashion your own fixes will be readily available as well. The trailer operates on a first come first served basis, and is out to encourage us to elongate the lives of our clothes.
Are you a hard core carver, then you may want to invest in your own, better quality kit. There are some fantastic eco creations on the market for you.
The Picture Harvest Jacket is one example. Made using the latest renewable technology, it’s crafted out of a substance called Pabex Renew, which is derived from Castor Oil. This makes it an excellent bio alternative to petroleum based materials. As well as requiring less energy to produce it is a strong, durable and flexible material and a warm and waterproof barrier between you and the snow.
The innovation continues from top to tail. Grown Skis are made from volcanic basalt rock fibre and 70% certified sustainably harvested wood. They’re fused together using glues from pine tree resin.
Planet Friendly Skiing Holiday Packages
If the idea of navigating the pistes alone is a little daunting, you may be looking into package deals. Some sustainable travel companies and resorts are far more eco than others. Resources like Snow Carbon offer great information about which are the most sustainable, and about which packages include the lower impact train travel option. Holiable are another eco travel platform, who help conscious holiday makers to seek out the most responsible skiing options.
The ski resort is an important part of any eco skiing experience as well. Check out our top picks for where to stay and who to travel with for the most environmentally friendly experience possible.