Nationals Location and CO2 Emissions

Hannah DreissigackerDecember 27, 200921

In light of the reactions to Erik Remsen’s recent article “Nordic Skiing Must Become Greener”, as well as the Copenhagen climate talks, I decided that it was high time to carry out an idea I’d had last year as I sat in the airplane on my way to nationals in Anchorage.  I’ve spent considerable time thinking about the environmental effects of this sport that I love, and it seems to me that when it comes to carbon emissions, by far the largest contributor is air travel.  It occurred to me that the location of Nationals could have a pretty significant effect on Nordic-skiing related CO2 emission in the U.S.  My idea seemed relatively simple at the time: calculate the CO2 emissions due to air travel for several different Nationals locations, and compare them.

When I actually decided to carry out my plan, I realized that it was a pretty complicated problem.  So I simplified it, and made a lot of assumptions.  Before you read any more, understand that this is a very rough calculation, but hopefully a reasonable estimate to use as a starting point for further calculations.

First, I divided the country up into five regions; Alaska, East, Midwest, Rockies, and Northwest.  Each region is represented by an airport, respectively: Anchorage, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Salt Lake City, and Seattle.  These airports were not meant to literally represent where skiers from that region would fly from, but I felt their locations were relatively central to the regions, and could be used to estimate the carbon emissions of an average flight to or from the region.  For the purposes of keeping it simple, I neglected car travel inside the regions.

Next, I used an online carbon emissions calculator provided by the International Civil Aviation Organization to get estimates for the CO2 emitted in the six flights that connect the 5 regions.  I used this data to determine the CO2 emitted to travel from each region to each of the other regions.

Next, I sifted through results from the last two years of Nationals and tallied up how many skiers competed from each region.  This brought up a lot of issues.  For one, the regional attendance at nationals varies a lot based on its location.  There were over twice as many Midwesterners  at the Houghton Nationals than the Anchorage Nationals, and significantly more Alaskans in Anchorage than Houghton.  To get around this, I used the tallies from Anchorage for all of the regions except Alaska, and used the Houghton tally of Alaskans.

The results came in as follows (in order of descending emission):

230,000 kg CO2 for nationals in Alaska

193,000 kg CO2 for nationals in the East

148,000 kg CO2 for nationals in the Northwest

127,000 kg CO2 for nationals in the Rockies

121,000 kg CO2 for nationals in the Midwest

Really, the results weren’t very surprising.  Clearly,  the more central locations would cause less emission.  The fact that they could cause almost a halving of emissions as compared with Alaska though, is significant.

Now, I don’t mean to make the argument that nationals should always be held in the most central location possible.  And certainly there are a lot of other factors that must be taken into account when determining nationals locations: fairness to athletes, fairness to race venues, economics, altitude, terrain and quality of skiing, and willingness of venues, just to name a few.  However, in the name of saving the winters that our sport depends on, it might be worth considering our sport’s carbon footprint when we pick future nationals locations.

Note:  There are a lot of additional variables that could be included in this analysis.  It was perhaps overly simplified.   To begin to name a few of these variables: intra-region ground transportation, variations in airports used, variations in attendance based on location, venue distance from airports, non-athlete travel (coaches, family members, etc.)

Hannah Dreissigacker races for the Craftsbury Green Racing Project.  For Hannah, joining the Green Racing Project means returning to her home club of Craftsbury Nordic. Hannah spent her last four years at Dartmouth, where she skied 23 of the 24 carnivals held during her career, and captained the EISA champions her senior year. An NCAA All-American in her senior year, Hannah is excited to have an opportunity to focus on skiing when she’s not at school and see where it takes her. She is hoping to be competitive on the national scene and improve upon her past results at Nationals. She also likes balance, so she’s trying to put her environmental engineering degree to use when she’s not training. At the Outdoor Center, she’s working on a composting project,  a carbon inventory, and an outdoor bread oven.

Hannah Dreissigacker

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  • Cloxxki

    December 27, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    I think caring about toxic emissions is great. And I love climate.

    But what does CO2 have to do with that? Really, spreading and supporting this misinformation is a great disservice to anyone reading it. Regardless of any good intensions involved. People need to self-inform more, especially on these important matters. Hint : mainstream media (newspapers, tv) might just have conflicting interests (ownership) in the things they inform you of.

    There are so many good causes to care for, and now so much energy is going towards the CO2 rap which is less than a skyscraper on quicksand.
    Where has care for wildlife gone? Trees and grass love CO2, BTW. And guess who like trees and grass?

  • davidf2d

    December 27, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    What do you think is causing all the almost no snow winters throughout Europe? I can only guess.
    We all know how accurate info is on every site on the web!

  • bill mckibben

    December 27, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Thank you for doing this work. It’s precisely the kind of calculation that we’ll need to be making in many areas of our lives in the years ahead.

  • Marc Beitz

    December 28, 2009 at 7:06 am

    It seems to me that MSP would make even more sense if you took the calculation further. It has a soon-to-be-world-class skiing facility within 10 miles of the airport. The facility is served by mass transit. Skiers and spectators can use hotel and restaurant capacity that is not seasonally redundant. I’m of course biased as I live here, but the numbers don’t lie.

  • Marc Beitz

    December 28, 2009 at 7:09 am

    While I’m at it, we’re just 1000′ above sea level, too!

  • Cloxxki

    December 28, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Almost no snow? I skied a week on end, IN HOLLAND. FYI: I live 20 feet BELOW sea level. I’ve checked, it has not risen. In fact, we’ve not had a Delta Works emergency in quite some time.

    Snow doesn’t happen here, and it sure doesn’t stay.
    CO2 is an innocent bystander. Look up data the UN’s subsedized panels didn’t retouch. There has been more CO2 before, without human industries. It’s been warmer before, and current global warming is a lie presented in a graph. Do 1 hour of skimming “climate gate” articles. Try to avoid CNN, national broadcasters, etc.
    Ask the people in Copenhagen how often their country has trouble with superfluous snow, let alone in December. If this was not a proof of global cooling (we’re bound to get a new ice age on year or another), it may have been a sign from above.
    Look up WHY Greenland got that name. And why it’s irrelevant that it’s coastal glaciers are menting. If glacier melting were prohibited, there were no water in the ocean to float the fish. Not a pretty picture.

    People, please fight for animal rights. Fur culture. Smoking culture. Underpaying 3rd world farmers. Stuff like DDT being kept from malaria sufferors for decades (google it). Worry about people living within closed borders, not free to explore the world, or chose the place they want to live.
    Worry, above all, about who is going to receive your imminent Carbon Tax payments. No, it’s not your local government. Not national either. Not an elected world government. No, a privately owned institution will be cashing your checks.

    I read Greg Craven’s book on global warming, and I knew for sure I was a Warmer myself. Then I read Lord Monckton’s work, and wow, was I ever wrong and short-sighted!

    This world is sick, and CO2 is the excuse for the wrong cure, not a cause by itself. Give CO2 to a tree, and it will bear you its fruits. CO2 is one little chemical compound, used only to feed crops and planckton. Which in the end, feed us all.
    Carbon Taxes will make us poor, while to destination of that cash, can print money without even needing paper to put it on.
    What do you really think Carbon Taxes are meant for?

  • peloquma

    December 28, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Why are you stating biased activist statements ? There is no room for either the Greg Craven or Lord Monckton’s views on this matter. You comment is a posterchild of media influenced notion and your addition of COMPLETELY unrelated facts make your argument poor.

    This is pretty typical of the science by design arguments you see all over the web. YOU should seek information from real scientists, not lords or high school science teachers. What a shame…

    Getting back on topic, I must agree, we have the same problem in Canada. The Nationals will be held in a very remot area. Typically, these place are chosen politcally, spreading the sites east west equaly without any repetitive use of ski centers. I can understand why this is done but if the economy of Yukon is dependant of one National week race, we have some sustainable issues… There should be a minimum of 2 years contract and there should be some sustainable clause within each contract for the food, the lodging, the logistics of it all.

    Now about the dinosaurs… (le sigh).

  • jesteb

    December 28, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I suppose that you feel that everyone with AIDS should be quarantined like Lord Monckton suggests (Monckton, C. (1987). European Document/AIDS: A British View. American Spectator, 20(1). Look, I think that Hannah brings up an excellent point; Nordic skiing helping contribute to overall CO2 emissions. The majority of environmental scientists believe that CO2 is a contributor to the overall impact of climate change. Hannah’s article helps establish that we, as Nordic skiers, need to be aware of our own impact.
    If you read in her second paragraph, she states that her information is has been simplified and I credit her for her honesty. If she were to go into great detail, we would be reading her dissertation. She has not spread misinformation, but has created awareness. As skiers, we often feel that we are the essence of “green” because of our peaceful sport as we silently glide across clean, white snow. But we need to understand that the sport we love has an impact on the climate.
    As for research and data, I like the tree argument that feeding a tree will “bare its fruits.” Too bad that really isn’t true for our largely populated world. Each person in the U.S. generates approximately 2.3 tons of CO2 each year. A healthy tree stores about 13 pounds of carbon annually — or 2.6 tons per acre each year. The current arable land on earth is 7.68 billion acres. The current world population is 6.68 billion, so there is roughly 1.15 acres of land per person to offset their own CO2 levels. Right now there are not enough trees to compensate for these emission levels, and there never will be. As for animal rights, I hope those polar bears are able to live in communities when the ice is gone in the Arctic.
    My overall opinion is that skiers are good for the environment. We get out and enjoy the outdoors, encourage others to join us, and we get to see first person the changes within our environment. Let’s all become aware of our impact and help others become aware of theirs. Nice article Hannah.

  • harrison

    December 28, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Great article. Perhaps we should be looking more closely at the implications of our actions as a result of Cross Country skiing.

    It would be important to also learn about the environmental and moral consequences of this years Olympics in Vancouver as so called green athletes.

  • D. Diehl

    December 28, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    For many years I would drive every weekend to races all over New York State and New England. The last few years I really started to question my actions. My friends would look at me cross eyed when I said I wouldn’t do Craftsbury because I felt like a fuel pig driving there even in my Honda Civic. Yes we can all make necessary changes to reduce CO2. I bought a ATV with tracks and I’m grooming a local golf course. For many years I drove the 80 mile round trip to a Nordic Center in North Creek, NY. The word is spreading and folks are beginning to show up at the free trails I’m grooming, which is closer for the local skiers. We also formed Team Hurt a ski team and we car pool to races as much possible, which is a great way to help reduce CO2. I think as endurance athletes we get fanatical and selfish. We can’t possibly miss workouts and we need to find snow no matter where it is. The result is we spew out pollution into the atmosphere to get our fix. Another way I’ve cut back on driving to my trails which are 12 miles away is to ride my bike trainer or jog a few times during the week. For most of us mortals we aren’t looking to go to the Olympics and a few days a week off the white stuff surely will not hurt.


    December 28, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    I think I’ll just keep skiing while you all sit there calculating your carbon. When Al said that it was settled, man was making global warming, I bought a snowmobile and a groomer. I live in the Mid-Atlantic.

    I remember the Time Magazine Ice Age cover too, back in ’75 I think.

    Well I have to go now, got to keep up with the snow coming down. Conditions are perfect, again, four years in a row now…

  • peloquma

    December 28, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Mr. Cloxxki, I read a certain Johnny Klister has unconditionnal love for your love of the “smoking culture”.

  • Laura S

    December 29, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Here is another piece of disconcerting information: the organizers for the Hochfilzen biathlon World Cup used 20 dump trucks that made 4-5 trips a day to the nearest glacier to bring snow down to the venue, for a total of several hundred truckloads.


    December 29, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    OK, more comments from the frozen man in Maryland. It’s +2 with the windchill, and I just spent two hours on the sled pulling my 48″ groomer. Had the grip heaters on HIGH.

    As far as disconcerting info from Hochfilzen goes, when it snows there they use front end loaders and trucks to haul the snow away. I know because I’ve seen it happen. What do we say about that? Nothing. It’s the same thing. They didn’t have to haul it away, they could have just worked around it.

    People who go to Germany and Austria to ski are often times disappointed by the conditions. At least that’s the way it’s been for the last thirty years or so…

    However, people who go to Truckee, CA are usually only disappointed because there’s a blizzard and they can’t ski because the snow it TOO HIGH. So, I vote that we all go to Truckee as often as we can.

    It’s time to stop being so stupid. If we stop skiing to save the environment, we won’t have any place to ski and no industry to support it. If that’s what you want, then Faster Skier is perhaps not the best venue for you.

    Now, since our government has decided to regulate our breath, why is it that we aren’t asking this question?:

    Should we ski at all since we are exhaling so much “toxic” gas?

  • peloquma

    December 29, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Actually, I am not sure what country that you live in but I am pretty certain your government hasn’t legislated very much.

    Furthermore, it’s this kind of great hyperbolic collection of bad examples that do not make your point. The point is very simple, just how much do you need to travel to put snow under your skis. Inversely, just how much does snow need to travel to get under your skis. Now ask yourself, just how much do you have to travel to a place that has no snow to meet at both maximum of the curve.
    In a modern society, it’s quite noble to ask yourself if you can do better, collectively, without major burden but with accountability. Carbon neutral requirements on contracts are things that happen everyday around you, like it or not.

    +++”It’s time to stop being so stupid. If we stop skiing to save the environment, we won’t have any place to ski and no industry to support it. If that’s what you want, then Faster Skier is perhaps not the best venue for you.”+++

    If skiing was like TV, you might ski at FOX mountain.

  • nordic_dave

    December 30, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Ummm Cloxxski I’m not sure where you get your Greenland history of a forrest existing there 1500 years ago. As for names and history. I would like to think the Vikings were a bit more clever in interchanging the names of Iceland and Greenland as clever misinformation. They clearly knew of and travelled to North America and just decided to say NOTHING.

    Fast forward I have lived in Utah a long time yet travel
    as in huge carbon footprint all the time. Years ago people would say “eeew you live Utah what a strange place. ” I would respond “exactly” …”please stay the hell away”. The Sundance Festival, Olympics et al has changed all that. So many people farting and messing things up.

  • donpollari

    December 30, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Cloxxski, your climate change denialism is ricockulous. Do you realize that only 3% of the SCIENTISTS who work in this area agree with you? You consistently called out Al Gore for being a climate change profiteer. Good for you for “following the money” but how you can do that yet ignore the unimaginable profits corporations are pulling maintaining the status quo?!?

    But back to the issue at hand. Everyone will green up when dirty energy costs go up. ( i.e. How quickly were things changing when oil was over $140/barrel?) This will happen sooner if progressive international/national policies are enacted.

    If this doesn’t happen sooner it will happen later anyways accompanied with much pain.

  • Scott Tucker

    December 30, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Reducing the carbon footprint by reducing air travel is pointed in the right direction, but unfortunately, the logic and emissions calculations in the article are flawed. Unless the planes actually stop flying, then you don’t reduce the fuel burned or the carbon emitted. It is true that less weight in the aircraft requires less fuel, so fewer people on the plane would mean lower emissions, but this is minor compared to flying the plane in the first place. So, unless we get the airlines to fly less (i.e. do less business), we haven’t made any impact on carbon emissions from air travel.

  • Don Haering

    December 30, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    We probably shouldn’t hold the Olympics in North America either because the majority of the athletes come from Europe. Sorry Canada.

    Anyone who thinks skiing is an eco-friendly activity should guess again.

    And lets not find excuses for why no one wants to come to Alaska. If you’re afraid of the cold and some long airplane rides, skiing might not be your thing. This is a winter sport. It’s cold in winter. Maybe you should stay home and plant pansies. They can re-fix some of our carbon emissions.


    December 30, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Let’s see. Maryland, the state, is in the U S A. Our EPA is regulating Co2, they don’t need to legislate. Sorry about that. Got to go run the groomer now, it’s a perfect night, full moon, temps in the teens…. Can’t wait to fire up the V800 Ski Doo.

    I’ll spill a little gas for you, Pelo.

  • peloquma

    January 1, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    It’s great that you can compensate with your V800, don’t spill too much, it can be a turn off.

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