Will Skiing And Snowboarding Ever Be Sustainable?

Les Arcs isn’t alone. There are currently eight resorts that hold Flocon Vert status and many more are making efforts to gain the certification. 

And resorts aren’t the only industry bodies fighting for a more snow-filled future. Snowsports brands have always been a huge part of mountain culture and Picture Organic Clothing is one name that always crops up early on in conversations about sustainability.

“When we talk about clothing, a big part of sustainability is what goes into the material,” says Picture Organic Clothing co-founder Julien Durant. “Historically, our outerwear has been made using recycled polyester, but we’re now moving away from oil-based fibres to eliminate the use of fossil fuels.”

“In the snowsports world, engineers are hard at work on new technologies to make things greener”

Take Picture’s Expedition range, for example. It’s made entirely from bio-sourced materials blended with recycled materials, and treatment of the fabric is completely PFC free. Or the brand’s Demain jacket, using Xpore fabric which is made with recycled polyolefin and sugarcane, yet outperforms many of its competitors.

“We’ve focused on making all our outerwear range for next season from bio-based materials to move away from fossil fuels,” Durant tells Mpora. “Polyester is oil-based. Sure, recycled polyester is better because we’re reusing, but it ultimately comes from the same harmful place. We guarantee for next season that 50 percent of the composition of our products will be bio-based.”

Elsewhere in the snowsports world, engineers are hard at work on new technologies to make things greener. In Funiflaine, a bold new lift project has just been given the green light. Connecting two major ski areas, it will take around 500,000 cars off the mountain each year, saving 10 tonnes of CO2 emissions. And snow groomer company Pinroth has just developed its first hydrogen-powered snowcat, the Leitwolf H2 Motion.

Pictured: A lonely skier makes the best of it in the Carpathians. Credit: Getty Images / iStock

Individual Action

When it comes to making snowsports more sustainable, the buck doesn’t stop with the brands and resorts. As lovers of the mountains, we all need to make changes in order to keep doing what we love. So, what can be done on an individual level?

“Around two-thirds of the climate impact of a typical snowsports trip from the UK to Europe is air travel,” Explains POW UK’s Winter. “So that is one of the more effective ways to reduce the impact of a trip. Likewise, longer trips will be better than lots of little ones. Or even just sticking to Europe rather than further afield.” 

There are hundreds of fantastic resorts that are accessible by train from London, and faster to get to than you might think. Destinations like Morzine, Les Arcs, Vaujany, Meribel and Les Gets can all be reached in between seven and nine hours. When you add up all of the pre-flight faffing and transfer turmoil that invariably comes with air travel, the time difference is marginal.

“Two-thirds of the climate impact of a typical snowsports trip from the UK to Europe is air travel”

You could also consider renting your gear, including clothing, rather than buying it. For those who only visit the mountains for a week or two a year, this might be a greener option than buying. EcoSki Rental is one platform that offers this service, allowing customers to use top-flight ski and snowboard gear, then return it for the next person. 

Picture Organic Clothing Is currently working on a similar project, whereby skiers and snowboarders can rent the latest Picture gear. 

“It’s aimed at the urban ski-addicts who are visiting the mountains once a year for a vacation,” Durant tells Mpora. “They might live in big cities, in small apartments with limited space, but still want to use the latest gear. This will be vastly more sustainable than these consumers buying the gear themselves, as products will be used by many different people.”

‘Hello darkness, my old friend.’ Credit: Getty Images / iStock

Is It Enough?

Even with all of these efforts, it’s still just a drop in the ocean in terms of global emissions. So, is it time to hang up our planks for good? Dom Winter doesn’t think that’s the answer.

“We’re all stuck in a carbon emissions-intensive system and stopping skiing/boarding, or especially switching to another type of holiday abroad, wouldn’t cut emissions much, and would lead to big societal impacts. We have a window to push the world, including the outdoor industry, to a place where we can continue to fully enjoy our incredible outdoor places, and need to take the chance right now to do that.”

“Until those in power put the climate crisis at the top of the agenda, everything else is just background noise”

To effect real change, we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Until those in power put the climate crisis at the top of the agenda, everything else is just background noise. Should you travel by train and be savvy about where you choose to ski or snowboard? Yes, but the most significant thing we can all do as mountain lovers is to band together and put pressure on our governments and big business.

Pictured: The official banner for COP26

“We run campaigns to push for the scale of change needed, and the public’s support makes all the difference,” Winter tells Mpora. “Our current campaign is called Divest the Dirt, helping stop money saved for the future from destroying it. We help our community learn how to act most effectively too, running a course called Carbon Literacy Training, so if you didn’t follow some of this or want to learn more, do sign up for that. We also help organisations take action, as their climate footprints are much larger than individuals’, through our POW Pledge – a guide on the pathway to Net Zero.

“Pile pressure on the people who can actually make a difference”

“Even if you made your trip greener you’d probably only cut a small fraction of your personal annual emissions,” explains Winter. “Even not going at all wouldn’t save much. Go and live in the woods and make your personal emissions as low as possible? It’d still be a drop in the ocean. We need to get to Net Zero emissions globally, where all climate emissions into the atmosphere are balanced by those coming out. Billions of tonnes of carbon cut. The only way we can do this is by changing our systems, our economy, and by making sure the right national and international decisions are made.”

Time is of the essence. In the run up to the UN Climate Summit (COP26) in Glasgow this November, anyone interested in keeping our winters white has an opportunity to pile pressure on the people who can actually make a difference.

Read our Green Issue here.

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