Friday, April 25, 2014

Environmental Sustainability within Snowsports: A Niche Development or a Mass Movement? By Lily McCann

By Lily McCann

People who regularly snowboard have a far greater interaction with the natural landscape and environment than those who live their lives solely in urbanized towns and cities. Snowsports enthusiasts actively engage with the natural world – the snow, the mountains, the trees – due it being this landscape that makes their passion possible. Urban skiing and snowboarding obviously do exist, with many great athletes honing their skills within urban, snowy environments, however, most of the action inevitably takes place within mountain resorts. As such, the skier or snowboarder understands the impact that issues such as global warming have upon the environment. If the environment were to be irreversibly damaged, it is highly possible that snowsports would not exist in the future, or at least, not in the sense that they do now. Auden Schendler, of Aspen Skiing Company, has highlighted that businesses 'in the action sports, outdoor world tend to be doing what their customers THINK they should be doing, vs. what’s right for the planet'. With this in mind, how much impact can it be said the sustainability movement within snowboarding and other snowsports is actually having?

Environmentally friendly resorts
The National Ski Areas Association is an organization that does some incredibly important work within the snowsports industry. Perhaps its most important work is the 'Sustainable Slopes' initiative and the annual reports that it produces. In its 2013 report, the NSAA noted that 'over 75 percent of the ski resorts nationally by skier visits' have supported its environmental charter. This is a significant portion of the market and is an encouraging development. Powder Mag has stated that 'wind and solar power, hyper-efficient snowmaking, and more efficient buildings will be increasingly present at your favorite resort', which are steps in the right direction. Snowboarding has enjoyed an increased level of exposure this year thanks to the Sochi games. Snowboarding has captivated the public imagination more impressively than it has for a long time – Iglu Ski have even gone as far to hail this year's crop of talent as 'the world’s most talented, brave and downright crazy adventure enthusiasts'. In light of this surge in exposure, resorts can expect to see an increase of visitors in the upcoming boarding seasons, so these efforts to offset carbon emissions should be applauded.

Efforts the individual can make
Not all aspects of sustainability fall on the resort operators. The individual consumer has a lot of responsibility, too. One of the main ways an individual rider may influence the sustainability of the environment is through the gear that they purchase. Boards, goggles and snowjackets all have to go through manufacturing processes which can be detrimental to the Earth's levels of CO2. That is why it is recommended to use brand such as Burton, who seek to make their 'product design, development, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping' processes more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Another way in which individual riders are responsible for CO2 emissions is through their use of transportation. Unless visiting a close, local resort, trips sometimes include flights. In this scenario, it is possible to seek out green airlines, in which Virgin America currently leads the pack. However, flying should actually be a last resort – flying is actually one of the most environmentally damaging modes of transport available - The New York Times going as far to dub flying as 'the biggest carbon sin' a person can carry out. If possible, try to take the train or carpool, as these produce much lower counts of CO2 and are therefore less harsh on the environment. 

These two aspects need to occur in conjunction if sustainable resorts are to be a long-term success
On their own, the impact of these two aspects is significantly decreased. However, both issues are given equal thought, and a trip to a resort is planned with these aspects factored in, individuals and resorts can make huge contributions towards the sustainability of the snowsports. Given the sheer amount of resorts that are cooperating with the NSAA, it is only fair to suggest that this is a movement that the vast majority of the industry is interested in. Within the past two decades, environmental preservation and eco-friendly initiatives have taken an increasing role within American society. This thinking has been intensified within the snowsports industry, due to it being the natural landscape and environment which enables people to enjoy their snow related hobbies, passions, and in some scenarios, professions. 
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