Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The ski industry has a carbon problem

Winter sports athletes and ski industry executives understand the risks posed by climate change. Lower and unreliable snowfalls and warming temperatures lead to less lift tickets bought, hotel rooms booked, ski gear purchased, and greater snowmaking expenses. So it is in their best interest to promote action against climate change lest their businesses melt away.

The media the ski industry creates to sell product and experiences often venturing to untouched regions of the globe or the wilderness to capture the act of gliding through pristine snow. Travelling to these lesser known regions is not efficient carbon-wise: it involves going further than anyone else is willing to go, or into sparsely populated areas, requiring carbon intensive methods of transportation (snowmobiles have worse MPG economy than the large pickup trucks that tow them to the trail head, we don't even need to discuss the carbon burned by air planes and helicopters), at population densities that make public transit non existent. All of this while selling disposable (they don't make 'em like they used to) model year gear that quickly becomes next year's waste. Not to mention flying around for film premiers, POW (Protect our Winters) meetings (hey, we have this thing called teleconferencing, it was supposed to make business travel obsolete), or other industry retreats.

Ok, the pro skier has got to eat too. I'm sure if you tallied up the carbon dioxide produced by a jet-setting POW snow sports professional, it would top that of the typical Albertan oil sands worker, who are already tired of getting shit on by the east coasters (who are employed to make the cars and air planes that actually burn the oil to produce the carbon dioxide). All for what is basically a hobby.

And what they are really doing is selling the dream to enthusiasts in the cities who will then hop in a plane and fly across the continent or load the family into the V8 SUV and head for the mountains. Or me. I drove 400 kilometers each way just to get to the mountains, and then drove up to 1 hour each way per day just to go ski touring. I wish I lived closer to the skiing. Leisure makes up a significant proportion of my carbon footprint.

I expect better from ski media. I want to see a film where someone spends a year where they walk, ski, or bike directly from their house in town to a trail head. I'm tired of watching a movie or reading a ski magazine talk about how bad the oil sands are, but with "I bought carbon offsets for my heli and sled time, brah!" or "stop idling in the Timmies drive thru, but you'll pry my sled from my cold, dead hands" thrown in. As consumers of this media, maybe it's time to temper our expectations of untouched and exotic for something better resembling the typical ski experience: crossing a track or two and having a great time at our local spot. Like urban skiing? That's right, jibbers are setting the best example.

In my opinion, greening up skiing requires societal change. Just as planners discovered the importance of incorporating green space into urban areas and its impact on well being, sacrificing some land which could be used for other productive uses, it is now important to surround people with an environment that does not require them to have to travel across the continent to experience their favourite hobbies. I'm envisioning moving chunks of city and industry into the mountains in such a mass that makes it feasible for public transit to move people around between home, work, and play areas. The idea is that people will travel and drive less to be able to do the activities that they enjoy. Lack of industry (good paying jobs) and affordable housing are currently blocking this mass movement. Of course this does not go down well with NIMBY's and environmentalists wanting to protect the wilderness who will fear crowding and habitat loss, but it is time to view this global environmental problem on a scale larger than one's backyard.

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