The ski resort industry has an indisputably large environmental impact. Slopes and lifts cut wide swaths across formerly pristine forest mountain habitats, illuminated snowcats growl through the night as they groom the trails for next day's skiers, snow cannons pump out artificial snow which wreaks havoc on native vegetation, swarms of tourists arrive in pollution-sputtering cars, and budding amenities and urban sprawl intensify these issues. In fact, many ski resorts are already beginning to feel the first stages of climate change. Studies report 20 percent less snow in alpine skiing areas below a mile (1,600 meters) in altitude and current forecasts estimate that within 50 years many of those ski resorts won't be able to continue business [source: The Independent].
That's not to say some ski resorts aren't working to lessen their environmental impact, however. Some of the many diverse measures being implemented include solar panels, wind turbines, low-flow toilets, recycling initiatives, bike-sharing programs and erosion-reduction techniques. Education and awareness programs are also gaining popularity, as studies have shown that while skiers enjoy their sport, they'd prefer it didn't have to be at the expense of the environment.
Organizations dedicated to assessing the environmental impact of ski resorts have started popping up; two are the Ski Club of Great Britain and the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition. They seek to identify which ski resorts are the most environmentally friendly based on a number of criteria such as:
- Traffic mitigation and elimination strategies
- Fuel-efficient and energy-saving tactics
- Sound water-management practices
- Climate protection and habitat conservation
- Waste-stream management improvements
Ski resorts lose points for activities like terrain expansion, real estate development, road construction and parking lot construction. For skiers interested in frequenting more environmentally friendly ski resorts, the Web sites offer lists of both top performers and worst offenders. Other ways skiers can reduce their impact on planetary woes include finding greener methods of transportation, avoiding littering while on the slopes and sticking to the trails to avoid disturbing wildlife any more than necessary.
Speaking of sticking to things, we'll talk about ways to stick to the rules while visiting a ski resort on the next page.