10 Commandments of an Environmentally-Friendly Skier

Chelsea LittleApril 5, 2010
snowy montana trail
We all want our winters to keep looking like this. Photo: Lauren Jacobs.

The following article is adapted from this column in Paris-Match, which was written with alpine skiing in mind. The only idea I’ve replaced completely is one urging skiers not to smoke on the chairlift… which might be a particularly French problem anyway! There are many more ways to stay eco-friendly; critique these and recommend your own “commandments” in the comments.

1. Dress Ethically

Conscious of environmental (and economic) issues, some companies have tried to capitalize on the green movement. Patagonia and Columbia have outerwear collections made from 100% recycled and recyclable materials. For base layers, skiers have been wearing wool for years. Far from old-fashioned, wool is becoming more technical and stylish, thanks to companies like Ibex, Patagonia, and IceBreaker (the last company wins the “best wool web content” award); the material is anti-microbial and regulates temperature like the best of your polypro training shirts, only it’s more sustainable, and sheep are cute. Cotton kills, but if that’s what you’re looking for, go organic – it’s not difficult. Maybe Swix, Salomon, and their peers will jump on board with legitimate non-synthetic technical wear soon. And while we’re talking about shopping, prioritize companies that take part in initiatives like 1% For The Planet (like Patagonia, Volcom, Turtle Fur, Mt. Borah, and Magic Potion [see below]) or take care of the environment on their own accord.

2. Make Your Event Eco-Friendly

There’s tons of ways to green a ski race or other event. Try to cut down on printed materials – the internet is a great thing – so you don’t waste paper. Invest in reusable cloth bibs. Make sure you clean up your feed zones and recycle and compost what you can. If you’re an event organizer, think about how you can plan your event so that participants don’t have to drive too much: can you house them in a central location and provide transportation, or better yet house them at the race venue itself? Is it feasible to provide a discount for environmentally responsible behavior?

3. Don’t Live in a Sauna

Both at home and on the road, use moderation when you hit the thermostat: 1° C cooler means 7% energy saved. Turn down the heat and keep the temperature at or below 65° F, which is sufficient to avoid the cold. It might be harder to regulate the temperature in condos and hotel rooms, but if you can’t control the heat, opening a window to cool your room should be a last resort, since it means you’re heating the great outdoors.

4. Ski on Soy

Racers are never going to abandon the Cera F for a more environmentally-friendly powder unless it’s faster. But for training, travel wax, and other low-priority applications, you could banish products made with paraffin, hydrocarbons, and fluoros, and turn towards more natural, non-toxic ingredients. Snowboard manufacturer Burton makes a green, soy-based rub-on, while fellow snowboard company oneballjay has a whole line of BioGreen waxes. My personal favorite, based solely on name and packaging, is Magic Potion. (note: the author has not tried any of these products, but would love to hear from someone who has) And as many skiers know, Citra-Solv is a pretty decent wax-remover – so ditch the chemical solvents.

5. Conserve Water

Water shortages are a matter of varying urgency depending on where you live. In the East, we don’t think about it much, whereas in parts of the West, it’s a pretty obvious problem. But the water we take out of the environment is only half the problem; think about the water we put back in. 20% of resorts are not properly equipped for wastewater treatment, so try to minimize water use, especially when you’re traveling. Need to take a shower after every time you train? No problem, but make it quick.

6. Leave Your Car in the Garage

A huge proportion of greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation, so take the bus, it’s the best way to keep the air pure and fresh. Carpooling is another great way to option, whether you’re heading to the trails after work or to a race with your teammates.

7. Stay in an Eco-Village

Going on vacation? Well, this isn’t the silver bullet for any particular resort. But if you haven’t picked your destination, a guide can help: the French Mountain Riders association, who have fought since 2000 to protect our greenspace, publish the “Eco Guide to Mountain Resorts” each year, an inventory of environmental initiatives in ski villages. Transportation, energy, water, waste… the team unearths all the good stuff. The Ski Green Guide covers American resorts.

8. Sort and Recycle

On the material side, each year 1,500 tons of used skis and snowboards are thrown away. Avoid overconsumption and don’t buy new equipment each season. Need a new pair of race skis, or four? Make sure you sell your old ones, give them to friends or a high school team, use them for rock skis – whatever, but don’t send them to the landfill! And then there’s plain old trash: in 2008, 17 tons of waste were picked up from ski trails in France. So do as you would in your house, throw waste in a trash can and don’t forget to sort it. Remember: 100 recycled plastic bottles make a ski jacket.

9. Don’t Ski Out of Bounds

Avoid skiing in sensitive zones. The forest is a refuge for animals. For example, a frightened chamois (European goat-antelope species) who runs 30 meters in the powder loses the equivalent in energy of eight days of food! In terms of plants, repeated trampling breaks young shoots and branches. Crust-skiing is fine, since your weight is carried fully by the snow. And skiing through farm fields, golf courses, and other managed areas obviously isn’t a serious offense (unless the landowners object). But truly wild habitat is getting rare these days, so if signs tell you to stick to the trail, pay attention.

10. Use Organic Products

The reflection of sunlight on the snow ravages your skin. Sunscreen is important, but for years many products included toxic chemicals. The same goes for soap, shampoo, lotion, and other cosmetics. Today, these substances are slowly becoming more regulated, and there’s also a booming market for companies who voluntarily go natural. You can protect your skin with organic, hypoallergenic products: make sure you know what you’re buying so you can say no to cancer from both the sun and your sunscreen!

Chelsea Little

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