One month ago, the nordic ski world participated in an international day of action in conjunction with 350.org. Some elite racers sponsored events of their own, while numerous others participated in the assorted events of the day. Couple this with the creation of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project last spring and there seems to be mounting evidence of a push for elite nordic ski racers to become more environmentally conscious. Nordic ski racers are evidently a very enlightened group. It is a hugely positive sign that we are engaged in a discussion over how best to combat climate change, instead of debating whether or not climate change is result of human actions. I honestly cannot envision this sort of discussion taking place in many other sports. However, as 350.org and the Green Racing Project help the environmental movement gain traction it is important that nordic ski racing, and all sports, not be given the opportunity to opt out of becoming greener.
Most top-level racers would probably agree that it is essential that climate change be addressed to ensure future winters of skiing. I am also sure that many elite racers have already made changes that will help to lessen the scope of climate change. Yet, my point is simply that as nordic racers make changes outside of racing which benefit the planet, the sport itself cannot be considered off-limits. As people shift from gas-guzzling SUVs to hybrid, energy efficient cars and from a diet produced in factory farms and laboratories to one produced on organic farms and sold locally, shifts must also be made in sports. Change is never easy, nor is it free of sacrifice; in this car crazy culture, many Americans struggle to bring themselves to trade in their large vehicles and I imagine it would be difficult for an elite racer to part with a pair of fast race skis. For the safeguarding of our planet, however, change is a must.
Now, I do not want to see high-level ski racing disappear. I do not want for people to have to choose between an Olympic dream and the dream of a cleaner planet. Instead, I would like to see a future in which the two dreams coexist. I see an opportunity for nordic ski racing to assume a leadership role. The Green Racing Project is a ‘green’ team, perhaps the first ‘green’ team in all sports, but let’s go a step further and make nordic skiing the first ‘green’ sport. We’ve set limits on pollution allowed by energy producers, why not a cap on the pairs of skis allowed to each competitor? Sure, manufacturers would complain, but the sport is about the athletes, not the equipment. We’ve set goals for more fuel-efficient cars, why not set goals for more environmentally friendly waxes? If the wax companies can continually produce faster waxes, surely they can be equally innovative when it comes to making environmentally safe waxes. We encourage others to car pool and take mass-transportation whenever possible, why not a ski train to transport athletes and coaches to the various World Cup events around Europe? One train would certainly have a smaller carbon footprint than the various buses, planes and private jets now in use. Additionally, it might also be necessary to question whether it is environmentally sustainable to hold nordic skiing events in cities like Dusseldorf, Prague or even Rome. The carbon footprint of these events cannot be small, especially when the snow must be trucked into the city. Perhaps nordic skiing should stay in areas that have consistent natural snow. Changes like these are, of course, top down mandates, and just as governments have been slow to implement climate change legislation, I would be surprised were any of these ideas to be acted on with any sort of speed. That said, agitation from below tends to cause governing bodies to pick up their pace. A few winters without snow might also do the trick.
I also know there are plenty of individual actions that could be taken by each and every elite racer. I would encourage FasterSkier, the Green Racing Project, and anybody else to brainstorm and publicize ways to make the sport greener. From homegrown snacks to replace individually wrapped bars, to ways to recycle race skis, there must be plenty of ideas floating around out there. As the nordic skiing community works to reverse climate change, let’s not turn off that mind set when we clip into our skis. The athletes and the sport can and should become greener.