Let’s start with a positive. Snowboarding is a fun, relatively carefree sport that many millions of people around the world gain a huge amount of pleasure from. It doesn’t have the moral and emotional complexities of sports like fox hunting or bull fighting, it’s not practiced by people who like to hang out in large groups intent on fighting each other, and it doesn’t take as much persuasion as say, getting a game of tennis on the go. To go snowboarding, all you need is a board, some snow, and a bit of gravity. Things which are, generally speaking, in abundance. And if you live in the right place, they’re relatively inexpensive too. So before this article is underway, lets get that clear - we love snowboarding, and we do it a lot.
Florent Marot takes ‘green’ snowboarding to a new level. Photo: Nicolas Siegrist
For the purposes of this article, the impact that snowboarders have on the Earth’s environment can be divided into three categories. The first is found at ground level and concerns the actual damage we do when we ride – the dropping of cig butts or litter and the damage we might cause to young trees and bushes as we ride over them etc. Also included in this category are the products we buy and the eco friendliness of them. Did you know you can now get eco snowboards? Thus we’ve got an article on new environmentally friendly snowboard products out there, and what we can do as a group to limit our intrusion on the mountains.
Category two concerns the business impact made at a local level, fed by our custom to the various resorts around the world. In essence ski resorts are a foreign intrusion in the mountains, and the building of lifts and maintenance of pistes is undoubtedly damaging to the mountains and the wildlife. Thus we’ve got a piece on the destruction we don’t see, and the cost our love of riding lifts has on the areas. Again, there are some facts and links for choices we can make to limit such action.
Category three is the big one: global warming. We all know that our CO2 emissions are causing an increase in temperatures around the world, and going snowboarding certainly adds to that cycle. But there are easy alternatives and balancing schemes out there. Did you know that by driving to the Alps the individuals carbon emissions are up to 85 percent more efficient than flying the same distance? Or that the amount of fuel needed to take one person to New Zealand by jumbo jet is roughly the same as that needed to drive a mini around the world 640 times? Thankfully there are some great alternatives out there, and we’ve found some for you in our piece on the carbon debate. There’s also a piece on indoor snow slopes and their fuel efficiency, and a quiz designed for you to find out how green you really are. Just for fun.
It’s worth noting that while we’re all unquestionably part of the reason the world is getting hotter, the fact that we wish to spend our spare time out on the mountains, enjoying the great outdoors, means we have a slightly selfish reason for getting the equilibrium back. And on reflection, this might not be such a bad thing
Riders visiting the Portes du Soleil this season are greeted by signs on the liftsindicating how long it takes for different types of litter to de-compose. Cigarette butts are down as taking up to 100 years, aluminium cans up to 500 years, and glass bottles an incredible 4000 years. The sentiment is obvious - take your litter home with you and leave the mountains as untouched by man as they were when you arrived. The signs also indicate that each ticket kiosk has free pocket ashtrays to give away, suggesting that the resort is doing all it can to be environmentally friendly.
While such schemes are a welcome addition to the alpine ski areas, they are also papering over enormous cracks for which the resorts themselves are responsible. Because when it comes to the business of big ski areas, there is no bigger threat to the local environment than the lift operators themselves.
It all starts with Global Warming, which has unquestionably had a dramatic effect on the world’s glaciers. A collaboration between Greenpeace and The Spanish Scientific Institute revealed that in 1865, the Pyrenees had an estimated 2000 hectares of glacier coverage. By 2005 that figure has shrunk to just 65 hectares. The picture is similar across Europe. Bars in Chamonix are often plastered with pictures of the valley at the turn of the century showing glaciers protruding into the heart of the valley. Today there isn’t a patch of ice until you get to a thousand metres above the town. Glacial retreat might mean very little to the average man on the street, but to the towns and resorts that rely on the snow for the bulk of their yearly income, the glaciers are indicating that snowfall averages are down and the winter temperatures are not as low as they used to be. In short, glacial retreat is a huge, flashing warning light for ski resorts, telling them that cold, snowy winters may soon be a thing of the past. Considering that winter sports account for an estimated 20 percent of global tourism, such news has led to an enormous amount of worry, which is revealed in the amount of investment currently being made to take nature out of the equation. In France alone, an estimated 348 million Euros - up by 7 percent on 2003 – has been spent on upgrading ski resorts. The bulk of the money going of course, to snow making machines.
Snow canons are, pound for pound, probably the most damaging piece of kit in the ski resort arsenal. To operate, they need one metre cubed of water to produce two metres cubed of snow. When you factor in that a resort such as Meribel can boast that, in one season, it produces enough snow to cover the motorway that connects the French Alps to Paris to a depth of 2 metres, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that they need a shit load of water to make such amounts. You’d be right. To cater for Val D’Isère’s growing water demands for example, a lake was built above Villard de Lans capable of holding 110,000 cubic metres. Before being re-routed, water held in the man-made reservoir would have gone to natural use. Multiply this by the number of resorts across the Alps and the figures start to build up. In 2003, the water company Rhone-Mediterranean calculated that snow canons across France have the approximate water needs of a town the size of Grenoble.
Snow Cannons are a classic example of snowboarding’s double bind. We love ‘em because they can save a holiday and get the park in perfect shape, but they use up a shed load of water and sometimes employ bacteria to help the snow form. Basically, they’re a bit dodgy. Photo: Blotto
It could be argued of course that the water doesn’t actually go anywhere – it’s simply pumped out of the canons and then melts away in much the same way that it would quite naturally. But this is where the genuine concern lies, because rather than being pure water, the majority of resorts use the ingredient SnowMax - a US made protein from the bacteria Pseudomonas Syringae - which, when mixed with water and cold air in the snow canon itself, can produce snow at several degrees above zero. Its long term effects are completely unknown and it is currently banned in Germany, while enormous quantities of the stuff makes its way up the French food chain.
Similarly, resorts think nothing of using explosives and earth-moving equipment to level pistes, install new lifts, remove unwanted hillocks, build new mountain restaurants, or stabilize cliffs. And that’s just in the autumn time. Come winter, an estimated 40,000 explosions (around 80 tonnes of TNT) are required by piste security teams to set off potentially devastating avalanches. It’s a wonder any animals manage to hibernate at all.
So while it’s true that at a personal level we should be aware of the impact we have on young trees as we slash our way through the forest, or what happens to our litter, or what kind of wax we use on our boards, we should also be aware that the resorts we visit are often vastly more disrespectful to their own mountains. That is not the same as saying we should ignore the problems however. Instead, it might be enough to realize that consumer preference will always be a much more effective weapon in the fight for the future of the environment, and choosing a resort based on its green credentials might be the only sensible way forward. Ideas to do just that can be found in the ‘Five Ways to Make a Difference’ section of this article.
Whether indoor snow slopes are good or bad for the environment is a bit of a ludicrous question. Of course they’re dodgy. But knowing very little about exactly how damaging they were, I had a look on the internet to see if anyone had actually - you know - researched it. That’s when I found a thread On SCUK’s caht room headed “Indoor Snow Environmental Issues???". Unfortunately, very little of the thread was still on the subject of snow making and refrigeration efficiency. After one wrong turn, the topic instead morphed into a heated debate about whether global warming was a reality or not. Whatever. I looked elsewhere, and while I couldn’t find any reports on the question, I did find enough info to realise that whether you agree with indoor snow slopes or not very quickly polarises people’s feelings on environmental awareness.
Perhaps the most newsworthy indoor snow slope is the Ski Dubai Centre in the Mall of the Emirates in heart of the Middle East. The fact that it’s 85 metres tall, can take 1,500 people riding or skiing there at the same time and has a 3000 square metre fun park is eyebrow raising enough, but it’s obviously the juxtaposition of building a snow slope in the middle of a desert - where temperatures of 40 degrees centigrade are commonplace - that has given it so many column inches in the world’s press. It’s certainly a fantastic PR coup for the Sultanate, and on paper the slope is a good thing for the people of Dubai too. Many have never even seen snow let alone ridden on it, so why should they be denied something that is second nature to the inhabitants of Tamworth, Castleford and Milton Keynes - the current sites of UK snow slopes?
Alternatively, it could be argued that it’s a fantastic waste of money and energy. Back at the SCUK forum, I read that someone had first hand knowledge of how Tamworth used surplus energy to heat its swimming pool. A nice gesture, but slightly overshadowed by the fact that the slopes use a gargantuan amount of electricity in the first place. While I failed wholeheartedly to get actual figures, it’s no secret that the latest generation of snow slopes are built around huge retail parks and amusement centres. As a standalone operation, the snow slopes themselves are far from profitable. Yet their freaskhow-like ability to attract people is unprecidented. Given that the slopes charge upwards of at least £20 per hour to each user and are still run as a loss maker says something about the immense bills involved - presumably the lion’s share going to the maintenance of low temperatures needed to make snow.
“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew." - Marshall McLuhan, 1964, Photo: Adrian Cairns
But let’s not get carried away. Even if the 16 new indoor snow centres awaiting planning permission in the UK, and a similar amount were built in the existing countries that have indoor snow slopes, we’re not looking at more than a couple of hundred slopes in all. It’s hardly enough of an energy blip to get OPEC on the phone just yet. Symbolically however, there is a very serious message being sent out by allowing commercialism to use the novelty of snow to attract shoppers while the world struggles with the reality of global warming. Because even the most pessimistic, bitter personality would find it hard to dispute that skiing and snowboarding in real mountains is all about appreciating nature at its best. The thrill of racing downhill is one thing, the beauty of the views, the peace and solitude of being surrounded by crags, peaks and valleys and the small things like the smell of the trees conspire to make snowboarding in its natural habitat something to be cherished. To think that it’s OK to recreate such a landscape in an industrial park on the outside of a flat town in the UK - potentially at the detriment of the original work of art being copied - is somehow distasteful.
Although the argument of the link between the energy effeciency (or lack thereof) of such buildings and the increase in global temperatures is far from conclusive (and judging from the SCUK thread looks set to run and run), it’s hard not to conclude that being so wasteful for such a tiny morsel of pleasure isn’t a touch, what’s the word - opulent? gluttonous? greedy? In some ways it sets a precedent which errs dangerously into the frivolous.
I’d like to believe I can see the both the cases for and against. To see people stoked on snowboarding is a positive thing - and who would deny the careers of young UK riders like Laura Berry or Billy Neilson - raised almost entirely on artificial snow? Equally however, I am aware that such a view is somewhat blinkered to the bigger environmental picture, and it’s not that clear cut. In some ways, it reminds me of the story of a group from French Fort Cove in Miramichi, Canada, who recently sold tickets to raise money for their local Eco-Centre (built to “showcase Miramichi’s history and culture while promoting education and environmental awareness."). Unfortunately, the Miramichi group decided to have as their first place prize a genuine Hummer 4x4. Although the contradiction was pointed out to them by virtually every environmental group in the region, the fact that they sold all their tickets gave them the moral high ground to say they were justified.
While the argument for and against snow slopes is far from as transparent, there remains an undeniable translucency that they aren’t – you know – actually that good for us.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
How to go snowboarding AND save the planet.
1. For every holidaymaker, getting to resort is going to be the major contributor to climate change. Flying produces at least three times more CO2 per passenger than any other method. Driving, getting the train, or travelling by ship are all alternatives that help reduce your carbon emissions. www.seat61.com can help you plan a trip without using a plane, for holidays to Europe, the US and even New Zealand.
2. If you do have to fly, then offset the amount of carbon your flight emits by paying for carbon absorbing trees to be planted, according to how much fuel your plane uses. The Eden Project is endorsing a scheme run by a Dutch company that has carefully managed forestry reserves in South East Asia, and will happily plant trees based on how far you fly. The scheme, named ‘Cool Flying’, has divided the world’s destinations by distance. The result is 9 zones, all of which cost a surprisingly small amount to visit guilt-free. For instance you can compensate the CO2 emissions of a return flight from London to Geneva (2800 km; zone A) for 10 Euros, a return trip to New York (11800 km; zone C) costs 24 Euros, while a return trip from Europe to South America (18500 km; zone E) is only 40 Euros. Click on www.bfclimate.nl for more info and to pay into the scheme. There is also a similar scheme called ‘Cool Driving’, based on most people’s everyday transport.
3. Large corporations tend to change their policies only if their customers head elsewhere. So look out specifically for resorts, holiday companies, and snowboard supplies that are actively promoting their green status, prompting others to join the gree revolution. Freshtracks are one operator offering specific green holidays (you can telephone them directly on 0845 45 807 84). www.skiareacitizens.com has a list of the top ten environmentally friendly resorts in the US (and the worst), while Neilson (www.neilson.co.uk) is a tour operator with a green friendly list in its brochure. For a comprehensive list, visit www.responsibletravel.com for a website dedicated to finding green destinations and has a winter holidays section. It’s not as hard as you think: Whistler is a prime example of an environmentally aware resort, with two departments dedicated to looking after the mountain’s ecosystem.
4. Reduce the amount of energy you’re using. Greenpeace’s fantastic website has a list of practical ways you can do this, as well as brief explanations of what appliances should be on and off your shopping list. For the detailed list go to www.greenpeace. org/international/campaigns/climate-change/take_action/12_steps. It’s worth bearing in mind that following this guide should also save the average appliance user hundreds of pounds a year so it’s a bit of a winner all round.
5. Join an organisation that is dedicated to halting and reversing climate change, protecting the environment and preserving and planting forests. Greenpeace is the obvious one (www.greenpeace.org) but the World Wildlife Organisation (www.worldwildlife.org) or the Woodland Trust (www.woodland-trust.org.uk) are good alternatives. For a humorous and informative take on the whole green movement, take a monthly visit to the incomparable www.treehugger.com. It just might change your life there sonny jim.
Jeremy Jones stiucks to the green snowboarder’s mantra, Haines, Alaska. Photo: Adam Clark
How green is your snowboard equipment? Statistically, probably not very green at all, because a thumb through the average snowboard brochure reveals that very few products on the market take notice of the environmental impact they make. For some reason, it isn’t on our radar.
Should our sister sport of surfing become more involved with snowboarding – a very likely scenario – then things will no doubt change. Surfers it seems, are much more aware of the impact they, as a group, have on the world. Perhaps it’s because the arena in which they practice their sport is much more noticeably polluted (as they have to literally sit in it) but surfi ng and being green seem to go hand in hand. Our sister mag The Surfer’s Path for example is printed on 100% recycled paper using water based inks. It sells by the bucket load. I reckon we could print White Lines in a Thai sweat shop using only the blood of orphans and no-one would notice.
We’re just, you know, a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. That said, for even the most hardcore green surfer, the choice between going green and continuing to surf is sometimes an ‘either or’ situation, clearly bringing into effect some harsh choices. Clark Foam, for example, suppliers of up to 90% of the world’s surfboard cores provoked a worldwide board shortage when it shut its doors in November citing California’s environmental laws as being impossible to operate commercially under. In a letter to his customers, owner Gordon Clark claimed he had already spent $400,000 meeting standards and feared time in prison should he not meet new emissions standards. At 73 years old, he decided to throw in the towel. The surf industry is currently divided into those who think it’s a good thing, and those holding snapped boards, protruding bottom lips and gutted expressions.
Snowboarders and snowboard manufacturers have yet to meet such a crossroads, but the production of snowboards is only marginally cleaner than it is to make surfboards, so it may not be as far off as we might assume. And anyway, should we really rely on government standards to keep manufacturers in line? Green alternatives, although fairly well hidden, do exist, and commercial weight will always turn business quicker than legislation. Perhaps we should be trying to change the way we ride before we’re forced to?
As stated, there are alternatives out there.
Mervin Manufacturing (makers of Gnu and Lib Tech boards) have boasted of using only water based solvents, renewable fast growing forest products and recycling as much of the post production material as possible for many years now. And of course, the outerwear company Patagonia have had a long term commitment to the environment in place long before they were interested in snowboarding. Perhaps in order to force the major brands to re-think their green policies, we should be buying into green ideas? Hold that thought, then peruse this list of snowboard products we reckon fi t the environment cock like a tight, ribbed jonny bag.
1. Eco-friendly snowboard wax.
Surprisingly few manufacturers out there are making non-fl ourine based waxes, but Magic Potion is a much touted example from the gallic loons at Apo Snowboards
(www.magicpotion-snow.com). Alternatively, some US eco types have come up with a Bio-Glide, a peppermint-scented, soy-based alternative to paraffi n waxes available online at www.welovesoy.com.
2. Eco-Friendly Snowboards
Venture Snowboards have three models in their range, the Zephyr, the Helix, and the Euphoria, all handmade at Venture’s factory in Durango, Colorado using sustainable harvested wood cores, recycled fabric and hemp topsheets, and low impact resins and glues. In addition to the board’s environmental pedigree, Venture aims to have a 100% recycle policy in its factory and generate all its own power from windmills. Check out their wares at www.venturesnowboards.com If Venture’s line doesn’t suit your needs, perhaps Arbor Snowboards might have the solution? With a line that includes 10 different boards, incorporating topsheets made from bamboo and other quick-growing plants, they reckon their ten-year old operation is the best in the business. They also operate a right-on factory and donate an
unspecified amount of their profi ts to protecting rare forests including the Hawaiian Koa trees - a species decimated in the 19th century. In the UK, Snow & Rock are carrying a few of their lines, with the Element priced at £410.
3. Solar Powered Backpack.
Only 8% of the power generated in the UK comes from renewable sources such as wind farms, with a very similar fi gure operating in Europe. Therefore, anything that runs on electricity takes 90% of its energy from fossil fuel generated sources. Remove a little bit of that need by getting a Burton Solar Amp Backpack. This little beauty recharges your iPod while you ride using solar panels built into the back of the bag, eliminating the need to ever charge from the mains ever again. And for the full eco-warrier trip, it’s made from hemp too. www.burton.com. O’Neill are in exactly the same market too with their H2 Solar Backpack, available from www.o’neill.com for a touch under £170.
4. Respect the Mountain Wristband.
Respect the Mountain is a campaign set up to plant trees in order to offset the harmful effects of CO2 emissions released from fossil fuelemissions. Buy a green wristbands to show your support for the scheme by calling 09065 224 698 (the £2 cost of the call pays for your wristband) or by joining the Snowboard Club (www.snowboardclub.co.uk) which as well as having other benefi ts, also includes the £2 donation to the campaign. Money raised from the sale of the wristbands goes directly into planting more trees.
5. Eco Lip Balm.
Pout your way to a better life with Eco Lips (www.ecolips.com). Their spf 15 environmentally friendly lip balm would do something with Mick Jagger’s lips that would be the lip balm equivalent to the amount of trees cut down by the Brazilian government. I know that doesn’t make sense, but I was going to try and make a joke using those ingredients. Spare me the trouble and have a crack yourself.
HOW GREEN ARE YOU?
a. I don’t have a car but my mate has abattered Fiat Punto covered in stickers. We can chuck the boards in the back without worrying about the seats, and
it’s surprisingly good in the snow.
b. An Audi estate. Fits board bags in the back and does 140 mph on the Autobahn. What more could you ask for?
c. A French BMW X5. Tricked up with Sat Nav and lowered, but it still never needs chains in the snow. I can watch DVD’s in it if the traffi c is slow enough too.
The thought of driving out to France...
a. Isn’t that bad. It’s a bit of a trek but it’s worth it once you’re out there. With four of us in the one car it works out much cheaper than fl ying anyway.
b. Is something I probably wouldn’t do unless I wanted my own car out there for a few weeks. Why bother when easyJet go there for a fraction of the cost?
c. Isn’t something I’m bothered about. I normally get the morning BA fl ight out, get a taxi to my place in Cham and fi re the car up a couple of times a month.
I wax my board...
a. When I remember too. I’ve got some good summer wax for Deux Alpes but in the winter I’m pretty slack. I wouldn’tmind trying that Magic Potion stuff out
b. Pretty religiously. I’ve got rub on, iron-on stuff for all temperatures and a pretty good tuning kit my girlfriend gave me a last Christmas.
c. The shop does it whenever my board gets a ding in it. Maybe once every three weeks?
Marmots should be..
a. Admired. And probably put on an endangered list.
b. Used for hunting.
c. Given to Gordon Ramsey to see what he could do with them.
My roof box...
a. Doesn’t’ exist. We’ve got some roof bars but they come off every time we don’t use them.
b. Is the best way of keeping all my stuff secure when I’m not with the car.
c. Is the dog’s bollocks mate. It’s the icing on the X5’s cake. But the Ceyanne’s box is even cooler so I might have to swap for one of those soon.
The perfect winter would be..
a. Spent in a small resort with loads of powder with a few of my mates. We’d hike all the hidden spots and do some serious reading and chess playing.
b. A month in Mammoth to get my freestyle legs back, then over to Serre Chevalier or St Anton for some winter powder, praying for a good European winter.
c. Spent using up my air miles chasing the best snow from Whistler to Japan to Russia. Plus a month stopover in Canada doing some crazy heli drops.
Ideally I’d like to have...
a. Not much really. Life’s pretty sweet.
b. A better job with more time to go riding.
c. My own plane and a place in Wanaka so I could ride powder in August. Sweet.
a. Not really for me. It just doesn’t feel right and it must use way too much energy.
b. OK. I go every now and again to keep the muscle memory up. They should have a powder night though.
c. Too small. Why don’t they build one on the side of a real hill that’s a couple of k’s long? Then I’d be tempted.
Florent Marot holds a high noon shoot-out in downtown Geneva. Photo: Nicolas Siegrist
Congratulations, you’re greener than Shrek. While some of your decisions might be financial at the moment, don’t forget to keep those green tendencies should your circumstances change.
Hmmm…you could definitely do with some ‘greening’ up. If you’re going to live a balanced life, you need to offset your lifestyle choices with a few green alternatives every now and again. And a drop in living standards might have to be swallowed like a man as a result…
Booo… and hiss… Although this might fall on deaf ears, you need to have a good think about the consequences of your actions. If you’re going to be vain enough to
have a 4x4 when you don’t really need one, you’ll need to subscribe to a carbon offset scheme if you’re going to claw back some green credit. But to be honest you’re
probably too busy shoving the kids into the back of your Chelsea tractor to care.