Tag Archives | Environment

A Skier Looks At Earth Day (again)

From I F*cking Love Science.

From I F*cking Love Science.

This is funny, but in a black humor sort of way. Because its premise is real: there are still people who don’t take global warming seriously. Sure, we’ve had record cold this winter here in Vermont. But for some, that’s enough to prove that global warming is a myth. Like just because it’s cold in one place means it’s cold everywhere.

With a winter like this, it’s hard to remember that global warming isn’t steady. It’s a trend. And over time, the trend is definitely toward warmer global temperatures. Take a look at this, from the National Climatic Data Center:

Climate Change

Scary, isn’t it?

I could go on all day. But right now, with Earth Day upon us, I really want to talk about what we, as skiers, can do to help.  With global warming threatening to eliminate winter — and our favorite sport along with it — environmental consciousness is something we really need to get behind.

It’s not all about skiing, either. Snow and ice are critical habitats for a wide range of animals. They provide a substantial amount of the planet’s drinking water. And polar ice melt could sink islands and flood coastlines.

How can we help? I’m sure you’ve heard the same thing over and over again: we need to reduce our carbon footprint. But that’s not easy, especially since snowmaking, ski lifts,and  just getting to and from the slopes require huge amounts of energy. So what are we supposed to do?

Glad you asked. I have a few ideas right here:

Carpool. Or use public transit to get to your favorite ski areas. It’s amazing how foreign this simple idea is to many people, though high gas prices might make it more appealing. Seriously, though. Buddy up, people. It’ll help the planet. It’ll save you money. And it’ll make your trip easier, too. If you’re having trouble finding someone to ride with, check out MountainRideshare.com, which works to hook up people who are traveling to ski resorts.

• Support resorts that use renewable energy resources. According to Patrick Thorne, editor of the Green Ski Resort Guide, 60% of the world’s leading 250 ski resorts get at least some of their power from wind, solar, or water (hydro).  Vail, for example, is the second largest purchaser of renewable energy in North America. And Jiminy Peak (Massachusetts) and Burke Mountain (Vermont) even have wind turbines on site. An interesting one to watch: Mountain Riders Alliance. This organization (I blogged about them here), has the stated goal of  developing values-based, environmentally-friendly, rider-centric mountain playgrounds that have a positive impact in the local community. So far they’ve opened a prototype ski area, Mount Abram, in Maine, and they’re working to re-open Antelope Butte Ski Area in Wyoming and Manitoba Mountain Ski Area in Alaska. Also, be sure to check out the National Ski Areas Association’s Climate Change Challenge, a report of what many resorts are doing to reduce greenhouse gases. Let them know if you support what they’re doing. It really does help.

• Buy from green companies. Another thing I’ve discussed before (go here). In brief, there are a growing number of gear companies that produce outstanding skis and apparel from recycled material. Many also support 1% For The Planet, giving at least one percent of their sales to environmental groups around the world. And some are involved in the Conservation Alliance, a consortium of outdoor industry companies that disburses its collective annual membership dues to community-based campaigns to protect threatened wild habitats. Founded in 1989 by REI, Patagonia, The North Face, and Kelty, the Alliance has more than 180 member companies, and has contributed more than $13 million to conservation projects throughout North America.

• Support environmental causes like Protect Our Winters, which was founded by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones, after witnessing first-hand the impact of climate change on our mountains. You might also want to check out Climate Solutions, which is working to accelerate practical and profitable solutions to global warming,  C2ES (the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions), and US Climate Action Network.

Of course, there’s a lot we can do in our daily lives, too. Turn off lights when not in use. Use energy saver appliances. Walk or bike when you can. Recycle. Use re-usable shopping bags. Plant trees. Support causes that are working for environmental change.

After all, for skiers, every day should be Earth Day. Celebrate today.

 



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Want to save the snow? Plant some trees.

Say trees to a skier, and most likely they’ll picture this:

tree-skiing-in-steamboat-springs-powdercats

But trees are good for more than just a skier’s playground. They can be an important tool in the fight against global warming. Trees remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air and emit oxygen into the atmosphere. Less global warming means colder temperatures, which can mean more snow, which means more skiing for me in, say, trees.

So it all goes full circle. I like that.

Recently, I learned that Jay Peak Resort in Vermont is working with a program called the Clear Water Carbon Fund to fund tree planting throughout the region. I spoke with Laury Saligman, co-founder of Conservation Collaboratives, to find out more. An avid cross country skier whose love of  the outdoors mirrors her passion for the environment, Laury  has an MS from the Harvard School of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences and is a Toyota Audubon TogetherGreen Fellow. Her organization, which she founded in 2006 with her husband, John McGill, is a partner in the tree planting effort.

Q: I understand that the program is based on the use of carbon offsets. Can you tell me what these are and how they work?
A: Sure. All of us produce carbon emissions in our day-to-day activities, whether we’re driving to work or driving to a ski area. These emissions go into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Carbon offsets counteract those emissions by linking the person or the business responsible for the emissions to an entity that can absorb them, most often renewable resources. So it’s a way to support these resources by “offsetting” the emissions that have already been produced.

Q: So what’s the Clear Water Carbon Fund? And how is it involved with Jay Peak?
A: The Clear Water Carbon Fund is a carbon reduction program that funds the planting of trees on behalf of individuals and businesses who are interested in reducing their carbon footprint. Jay is offering carbon offsets through its website and online booking. So if you’re coming to Vermont to ski, but you’re attracted to the region – the fresh air, the beautiful views – you can counteract the CO2 you produce traveling here by going to the Jay website and contributing to the Fund. Also, when you book a trip online, you will be invited to participate in the program.The money goes toward  planting and maintaining  trees, periodic monitoring to verify the amount of carbon they store, and paying monetary incentives to landowners  for the loss of  revenue-generating activities such as the use of these areas for hay.

Q: Are the trees planted locally?
A: Yes. Even though CO2 is a global pollutant, the trees will have the same effect on global warming no matter where they’re planted. In Vermont, we’re working with the White River Partnership to replant in areas that were denuded by Tropical Storm Irene or that’ve been assessed as important to watershed health. And we’re working with NorthWoods Stewardship Center to plant trees in the Clyde River watershed,  a tributary of Lake Memphremagog in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. In Maine, we’re planting trees along the Crooked River in the Sebago Lake watershed and along the Androscoggin River near Bethel.

Q: All these are along the water’s edge. Why? 
A:  We try to do all our plantings  within 150 feet of a creek or river. With good reason. Trees help prevent soil erosion, filter sediment and harmful pollutants to keep  water clean, and provide shade for aquatic species and resting areas for migratory birds. We try to plant native species — cottonwood, red maple, and a variety of bushes and shrubs. The more we can mimic the natural environment, the better.

Q: So how may trees have you planted so far?
A: Probably around 2,000. Jay Peak is the first ski resort in the area to offer this to their guests, but we’re hoping to expand it  throughout the state. This way  skiers can both take responsibility for their carbon dioxide emissions and protect our local environmental and water resources. I just wish every ski area would offer this to their guests, and that everyone who came to Vermont would pay a few dollars to support the natural infrastructure that makes this state so special.

 

Laury Saligman and family.


Laury Saligman and family.

 



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I’m all shook up.

I harbor a deep, dark secret:

I didn’t grow up in the mountains.

Instead, my childhood was spent in a land of sand and surf: the Jersey shore. I lived there until I graduated high school. And though I moved away long ago and  now live in Vermont,  I still have plenty of friends and family — as well as a deep, visceral attachment — to the ocean and the beach.

So to me, the images of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy are especially heartbreaking. You know the amusement pier that collapsed into the ocean in Seaside Heights, NJ? That’s a few miles south of my brother’s house. Yes, he’s fine; he evacuated to his business a short distance inland, though he won’t be allowed back home for six to eight months, until all the gas mains on his barrier island are replaced and his house is inspected for structural damage. And after all that, it may still be condemned. Awful, for someone who’s lived in the same place since 1974.

Hurricane Sandy, Jersey shore

Last year, when Irene hit Vermont, we were amazed at the extent of the destruction. Perhaps it was naive to think this was exceptional. There have always been storms, there will always be storms. But human memory is short. If it wasn’t, no one would build on barrier islands. These are fragile environments, and the ocean is a huge and powerful machine. It builds up easily, it takes down mercilessly. And there’s little we can do about it.

Science tells us climate change is here and the future will bring great changes, including larger, more powerful storms. This isn’t easy to fathom, but it’s true. The more we come to accept it, adjust our lives accordingly, and take steps to prevent things from getting worse, the better off we’ll be.

All that aside, the important thing right now is to help those who’ve been affected by this most recent tragedy; those who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their property.  Having been through Irene, I can easily relate to what’s happening on the coast. If you’ve never experienced a natural disaster, consider yourself lucky. But also consider this: it could happen to any of us tomorrow. If it did, we’d hope someone would help us, too.

So I hope you’ll forgive me if I ask you to give what you can to help. I know this has nothing to do with skiing, but incredibly enough, even I know that there some things more important than that.

Here are a few places that are accepting donations for those in need:

The American Red Cross: Go to www.redcross.org, call 800-Red-Cross, or text the word “Redcross” to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

The Salvation Army has dozens of mobile feeding units and shelters along the East Coast that are working to serve thousands in the areas most heavily hit. Visit www.salvationarmyusa.org to donate.

FeedAmerica has thousands of pounds of emergency food, water, and supplies in the disaster zone that it’s working to distribute to the storm’s victims. To donate, visit www.feedingamerica.org or call 800-910-5524.

World Vision is distributing flood clean-up kits, personal hygiene items, and emergency food kits to people hit by the hurricane. To donate, visit www.worldvision.org.

Save the Children is also working to provide relief to families and their children. Visit www.savethechildren.org to donate.

Americares is providing medicine and other supplies to people affected by Hurricane Sandy. To donate, visit www.americares.org.

Samaritan’s Purse is asking for volunteers to help storm victims. To volunteer, visit their website.

The Community Foodbank of New Jersey coordinates efforts with the state’s Office of Emergency Management, as well as with state and local nonprofit organizations. Visit www.njfoodbank.org.

And here’s something really cool:

Vermont’s ski resorts have launched Mountains of Love, a fundraising campaign to help with Sandy recovery. You can find out more about it here.

Thank  you.

 

 

 

 



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Back to the future.

I have seen the future of ski area management, and it’s in Maine.

Actually, it’s more like Back to the Future. But instead of hitching a ride with Marty McFly in a modified 1981 DeLorean, we’re moving ahead with an organization called Mountain Riders Alliance.

If MRA sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about them here in March. To me, this organization is like a breath of fresh air. MRA offers a vision of ski area management that’s a 180 from the way things have been headed for the past few decades: back before ski areas were run by corporations who had no connection to their local communities; before fancy-schmantzy base villages brought urban sprawl and environmental problems to the mountains’ doorstep; and before lift ticket prices were so high that a lot of people were effectively closed out of the sport.

Instead, MRA is dedicated to creating values-based, environmentally-friendly, rider-centric mountain playgrounds that encourage environmental sustainability and community involvement.  The idea is to concentrate on great skiing and the things that make skiers happy, rather than on generating profits for faceless investors on Wall Street.

It all sounds good to me.

So why am I writing about them again? Well, a few days ago MRA announced a partnership with Mount Abram in Maine to create its first eastern MRA Mountain Playground.

Mt Abram Trail Map

It’s a terrific fit.  Owned and operated by Maine businessman and recent Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductee Matt Hancock, Mt. Abram is known for its laid-back vibe, affordable prices, and environmental commitment. This year Mt. Abram was awarded NSAA’s Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence (along with Stevens Pass and Aspen). And it’s very close to installing one acre of solar panels, which would make  them North America’s first negative net energy ski area.

This is big news. According to MRA, energy is a ski area’s second largest expense, just after payroll. On-site clean energy creation can help minimize that expense. And when you figure in tax depreciation, grants, and other incentives, the whole thing becomes even more viable.

Right now the business model looks like this: MRA will sell membership shares to the public, loosely based on a co-op business model. The membership shares will offer a variety of benefits and privileges. Members will hold elections and be represented in a dialog with ski area management. Mt. Abram will also remain open to the public, so non-members can ski there, too, except during peak times. You can find more information here.

Mt. Abram is MRA’s first conversion of an existing ski area. The organization is also working to restore Manitoba Mountain on the Kenai Pennisula in Alaska, bringing it in line with the MRA paradigm. Over the next 5-7 years, MRA plans to add  five more ski areas to its line-up. According to co-founder Jamie Schechtman, the organization will focus on underperforming ski areas that offer on-site renewable energy potential, an engaged community, and a large enough population base to make the project viable. Schechtman mentioned June Mountain and Snow King in Jackson, Wyoming, as areas that could fit the model.

I don’t know about you, but I find all of this very exciting. Anything that keeps open mountains that might otherwise fold is pretty sweet. Add MRA’s vision of skiers, environment, and community, and you’ve got a winning combination.

There has to be a place for those of us who want an alternative to the Vails and Breckenridges and Park Cities out there. And thanks to MRA, I think there is.

 

 



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A Skier Looks at Earth Day.

Lone Peak, Big Sky, Montana

Lone Peak at Big Sky, Montana

In case you missed it, Earth Day was April 22.

The folks who started Earth Day weren’t dumb. They slated it for springtime, when plants are emerging and the earth is turning green. After all, it’s easier to think about saving the planet when everything around us is coming to life.

But the principles behind Earth Day apply to more than a single season – and taking care of the planet is just as important when the world is shrouded in white. With global warming threatening to eliminate winter — and to take our favorite sport with it — environmental consciousness is something that we skiers need to get behind.

And not only because of skiing. Snow and ice are critical habitats for a wide range of animals. They provide a substantial amount of the planet’s drinking water. And polar ice melt could sink islands and flood coastlines.

How can we help? I’m sure you’ve heard the same thing over and over again:  we need to reduce our carbon footprint. But that’s not easy, especially since snowmaking, ski lifts,and  just getting to and from the slopes require huge amounts of energy. So what are we supposed to do?

Glad you asked. I have a few ideas right here:

* Carpool. Or use public transit to get to your favorite ski areas. It’s amazing how foreign this simple idea is to many people, although now that gas prices are up it might take on more and more obvious appeal. Seriously, though. Buddy up, people. It’ll help the planet. It’ll save you money. And it’ll make your trip easier, too.

Support resorts that use renewable energy resources. According to Patrick Thorne, editor of the Green Ski Resort Guide, 60% of the world’s leading 250 ski resorts get at least some of their power from wind, solar, or water (hydro).  Vail, for example, is the second largest purchaser of renewable energy in North America. And Jiminy Peak (in Massachusetts) even has a wind turbine on site. An interesting one to watch: Mountain Riders Alliance. This organization (I blogged about them here), has the stated goal of  developing values-based, environmentally-friendly, rider-centric mountain playgrounds that have a positive impact in the local community.

Buy from green companies. Another thing I’ve discussed before (go here). In brief, there are a growing number of gear companies that produce outstanding skis and apparel from recycled material. Many also support 1% For The Planet, giving at least one percent of their sales to environmental groups around the world. And some are involved in the Conservation Alliance, a consortium of outdoor industry companies that disburses its collective annual membership dues to community-based campaigns to protect threatened wild habitats. Founded in 1989 by REI, Patagonia, The North Face, and Kelty, the Alliance has more than 180 member companies, and has contributed more than $9.5 million to conservation projects throughout North America.

Support environmental causes like the Save Our Snow Foundation. Started  by freeskier champion Alison Gannett, Save Our Snow seeks to  demonstrate that solutions to climate change can be cost-effective, can increase profitability while reducing pollution, and can increase energy security and green sector jobs — all while saving our snowpack and our planet’s ecosystems. Another good one: Protect Our Winters, which was founded by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones, after witnessing first-hand the impact of climate change on our mountains.

Of course, there’s a lot we can do in our daily lives, too. Turn off lights when not in use. Use energy saver appliances. Walk or bike when you can. Recycle. Use re-usable shopping bags. Plant trees. You know the drill.

After all, for skiers, every day should be Earth Day. Celebrate today.



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Mountain Riders Alliance: Big on Mountains, Small on Infrastructure.

When I was a kid (yeah, I know that makes me sound about a million years old), there were loads of mom & pop ski areas around. You know, small family owned and operated places with a rope tow, maybe one or two chair lifts, a few trails, not a lot of grooming, and minimal snowmaking. They weren’t huge and I’m sure it was a struggle each year to stay alive. But they were closely tied to the surrounding community, and the focus was squarely on skiing.

It’s a different world today. Most of the mom & pops have been replaced with mega-resorts that trade on Wall Street. Go to Vail or Breckenridge, or to dozens of other ski resorts, and you’ll find condos, fancy base villages, and a whole host of off-snow activities. To be sure, there’s some great skiing there, too. And the amenities are not without value. Lots of people enjoy them, and I tell myself they help support the skiing. But there’s a downside, too. The development contributes to urban-style problems and can have an adverse effect on both the environment and the local community. And most distressing of all: the focus seems to be less on skiing, and more on the corporate bottom line.

Is there an alternative? Hal Clifford, a former editor at SKI Magazine and the Aspen Daily News, thinks so, and discusses it in his fascinating book, “Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing.” (I highly recommend it.) And so does Mountain Riders Alliance, an organization that’s made it its mission to create ski areas that focus less on infrastructure and more on the mountain. Its stated goal: to develop values-based, environmentally-friendly, rider-centric mountain playgrounds that have a positive impact in the local community.

MRA seeks to balance riders, community, and the environment.

I recently asked Jamie Schectman, one of MRA’s co-founders, to tell us more about his organization.

Q: Can you give me some history about Mountain Riders Alliance? How did it get started and why?
A: We started MRA in 2009 because of our growing concerns about the direction our beloved sport has taken. Many of us passionate skiers and riders are not interested in the current corporate ski model, where the focus is on the out of boot amenities, theme park attractions, and real estate sprawl. We want the sport to refocus on the ski experience.

Q: Can you briefly describe your goals?
A:We want to bring the triple bottom line philosophy of people, planet, then profit to the ski industry. We want to create as well as convert existing ski areas around the world to MRA Mountain Playgrounds.

It’s terrible to think that climate change could make skiing extinct, if drastic action isn’t taken. We believe all ski resorts have an excellent opportunity to create renewable energy. Since utilities are usually the number two cost in the ski industry and account for 75% of a resort’s emissions, we will prove that clean energy is both economically and financially sustainable.

Q: What are your objections to the way most ski areas are run? How would you do things differently?
A: First of all, I’m very grateful for the corporate ski resorts. They’ve provided many years of amazing times and helped me be the skier I am today. We just believe there’s another segment of the ski population whose needs aren’t currently being meet.

In our model, we would greatly reduce the infrastructure and get back to being in the uphill transportation business. Instead of corporate ski resorts, where all the money spent in the village and on the mountain is funneled to the stakeholder, we’ll forge partnerships with the local community. When our mountain playground makes money, everyone will prosper.

Q: So how will your business model work? Will you acquire resorts outright, or work with them as partners?
A: Each Mountain Playground will be a Limited Partnership. We are putting the structure in place so that communities will have the opportunity to buy into their own ski areas. Mountain Rider’s Alliance, LLC will take a small minority stake for facilitating the deal and work as the general managing partner. Each Mountain Playground will be unique to itself, but share MRA core values of Community, Environment and Riders.

Q: Will you create any resorts from the ground up, or are you only interested in acquisitions?
A: We’ll do both: create new areas from the ground up, such as Manitoba Mountain, Alaska, as well as acquire existing ski areas. There are many ski areas around the country, such as Snow King, Wyoming, Moonlight Basin, MT, and others that need a new direction and change in ownership.

Our criteria for selecting a Mountain Playground will include on-site renewable energy potential, exciting terrain and community support.

Q: How can ski areas be more sustainable? What are you doing to promote this?
A: Aside from implementing the low-hanging fruit such as resort-wide recycling programs, composting, using biodiesel, and so on, ski areas can really make a difference by becoming energy providers. Between solar, wind, geothermal, and microhydro, virtually every ski resort has the ability to make energy. Since they are almost always connected to the grid, any excess energy generated can be sold back to the utility company in all 43 net metering states.

Q: Can you tell me about some of the projects MRA is involved in?
A: We have been working with an existing ski area and hope to change ownership to MRA’s first Mountain Playground this summer. Once we have successfully completed the conversion, it will serve as the blueprint for other areas.

There are currently many ski areas and communities around the world that are looking for a new direction and change of ownership. We won’t be a typical franchise where you have the same Big Mac all over the world. Each Mountain Playground will be indigenous and unique to itself but will share MRA’s core values of being Community focused, Environmental stewards, and Rider centric.

Our other exciting project is Manitoba Mountain, Alaska. Located on the Kenai Peninsula, 90 minutes from Anchorage, this Mountain Playground will raise the bar for North American skiing. With 3 surface lifts and access to 10,000 acres of world-class Chugach terrain, our concept of “big on mountain, small on infrastructure” will be showcased. Imagine accessing helicopter-like skiing terrain via a surface lift.

Q: Can you tell me about some of your partnerships?
A: We have forged many strategic alliances.Working with Protect Our Winters, we will be creating an Environmental and Climate Educational Center (EC2) at each of our Mountain Playgrounds. Truly combating climate change starts with education. We’ve also  teamed up with Olympian Suzy “Chapstick” Chaffee and her organization, the Native American Olympic Team Foundation. We strongly believe that Native Americans should have more access to the mountains and look forward to creating programs at our Mountain Playgrounds to assist in that goal. And one of our favorite partners is with SheJumps. As every Ski Diva knows, we need more women in our sport. Together we will be creating an annual She Jumps Spring Fling at Manitoba Mountain. We want to create an annual event with skiing, music and good times, to give people another reason to come visit the Chugach each spring. We’re all about building partnerships with other like-minded companies. Feel free to contact us if you are interested.

Q: What can we, as skiers, do to help MRA achieve its goals?
A: As a start-up grassroots organization, we’ve taken advantage of many riders’ various skills to develop what now is Mountain Rider’s Alliance. Everyone is encouraged to get the word out! If you would be like to become more involved, feel free to contact us. We also will be rolling out our MRA Membership package soon.

 



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Save The White: Go Green!

If you love skiing — heck, if you love the planet — here are two words sure to send a chill down your spine:

Global warming.

For anyone who believes global warming is a myth, it’s time to re-evaluate your thinking. Even a study funded by the Koch Brothers (oil billionaires and devoted supporters of conservative causes) has confirmed that it’s real. Global warming is here, it’s already wreaking havoc, and in the better-late-than-never department, it’s time we did something about it.

So it’s encouraging to learn that some gear companies are working to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s not only responsible, but it makes good business sense. Without snow, there’s no skiing. And without skiing, they’re out of business.

Not long ago I posted about Soul Poles, a new company that’s making ski poles out of eco-friendly material. But Soul Poles isn’t the only one making an effort to be environmentally friendly. Here are a few others who are going green to save the white:

Grown Skis

Grown Skis: Grown sells the first ski with an individual ecological footprint calculation expressed in grams per cubic centimeter volume of ski, allowing customers to compare products by their ecological performance. The company makes its skis out of wood from sustainable forests in Europe. They also eliminate most non-natural materials in the top sheet, side walls, and reinforcements. Instead, they use volcanic basalt and recycled material. Grown skis claims to have the first climate neutral skis on the market, where the remainder of the carbon footprint has been offset with climate protection projects in Europe.

Liberty Envy Skis

Liberty Skis: Liberty is the only ski company to use bamboo laminate as the core material in all of its skis. Not only is bamboo strong and lightweight,  but its fast growth makes it a sustainable resource.  The company also relies on wind power, and uses volcanic basalt fiber in its topsheets.

Grace Skis: Like Libery, Grace uses manufacturing processes that are respectful of the environment.  The company puts a priority on producing skis in the most environmentally responsible way possible. This means continuously evaluating materials for their eco-friendliness and implementing manufacturing techniques that reduce overall waste.

 

333 Ski's Factory-In-A-Trailer

333: This company is a hoot. You’ll have to pardon my comment, but their factory just blew me away. I mean, look at it (see the pic above). It’s a small, portable trailer that travels from one spot to another. The entire operation — skis, press, etc. — was built using recycled and abandonned parts. The company uses a solar generator to produce its skis, using under 10 oz. of petrol per pair.

Atomic: One of the big players in the ski industry. No matter; it’s still working to reduce its carbon footprint. Atomic revamped its manufacturing processes at its plant in Altenmarkt, Austria,  cutting its annual fuel oil consumption by 950,000 litres while lowering CO2 emissions by an estimated 4 million kg per year. It also filters and recyles all its grinding residue and gets its electricity from renewable energy sources. Recycling is also mandatory: 15 different types of waste are collected separately and recycled. Atomic has received two awards for developing the first ski boot from renewable raw materials.

Head: Another big player working to make a difference. Head has partnered with Cool Earth, an organization dedicated to protecting rain forests that might otherwise be destroyed. The company is committed to saving more than 7,000 acres of rain forest from destruction: the equivalent of 7,000 American football fields.

Patagonia: Few clothing companies have as big a commitment to the environment as Patagonia. They’ve actually made it part of their corporate culture. For example, the company has a program that allows employees to leave their jobs to work for the environmental group of their choice for up to one month, during which Patagonia pays their salaries and benefits, and environmental groups get them for free. They’ve also given more than $43 million to more than 1,000 environmental organizations. What’s particularly encouraging is that even though the company wants to sell you its products, they also want to make sure these items don’t end up in a landfill. So in addition to accepting  them for recycling, Patagonia has launched a web page on which people can sell their gently used Patagonia garments. And here’s something cool: you can track the impact of any Patagonia product, from design through delivery. Go here.

Conservation Alliance: This is a consortium of outdoor industry companies that disburses its collective annual membership dues to community-based campaigns to protect threatened wild habitat, preferably where outdoor enthusiasts recreate. Founded in 1989 by REI, Patagonia, The North Face, and Kelty, the Alliance has more than 180 member companies, and has contributed more than $9.5 million to conservation projects throughout North America.

1% For The Planet: I first learned about 1% from my intereview with Bryon Freidman at Soul Poles. 1% For The Planet is a group of companies that donate 1% of their sales to a network more than 2,600 environmental organizations worldwide. An admirable effort, and one that I wish more companies would make.

All these efforts are extremely commendable. But obviously, they’re only a drop in the bucket, when you consider all that needs to be done.  So while it’s important for more gear companies — heck, more companies of any sort — to commit to reducing their carbon footprint, it’s something all of us should get behind, too. What can you do? Buy green products (nothing speaks greener than green cash). Recycle. Reuse. Carpool when you go skiing. Better yet, take public transit, if at all possible. Every little thing we can do helps. And maybe all together, we can make a difference.

One more thing: I can’t wrap this up without referring once again to Alison Gannett’s Save Our Snow Foundation. I’ve featured Allson in this blog several times, and found her efforts truly inspiring. Not content to rest on her laurels as a world champion extreme skier, Alison  founded SOS in 2006. Its mission: to demonstrate that solutions to climate change can be cost-effective, actually increasing profitability while reducing pollution and increasing energy security and green sector jobs, while also saving our snowpack and our planet’s ecosystems. I urge you to visit her site and support her efforts.



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A little bit of Soul.

How much thought do you give your ski poles?

I thought so. Not much.

To me, poles rank pretty far down on my list of gear. It’s sort of like this: skis first, followed by boots, clothes, helmet, and then way, way, way down at the bottom, poles.

Face it. Ski poles just aren’t sexy. I mean, we’re basically talking about a stick with a hand grip and a basket. There’s just not much to get excited about. But all this is about to change. Because the coolness factor for poles is going to jump considerably, thanks to a new company, Soul Poles.

What’s Soul Poles? Basically, Soul Poles combines a contemporary idea – sustainable, environmentally-friendly ski gear —  with one that’s very old: bamboo.

Soul Poles is the brainchild of US Ski Team Members and World Cup Racers Bryon Friedman and Erik Schlopy, working in partnership with former US Alpine Team Head Coach, Phil McNichol. Quite a pedigree for a fledgling operation. But as high powered ski types, these guys bring a lot of cred to the table and provide the sort of excitement needed to market something most people see as pretty ho-hum. What’s more, they’re doing a lot more than just selling ski poles: they’re providing a piece of equipment that’s made in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. And as outdoor enthusiasts, that’s something we can all get behind.

I recently spoke to Bryon Friedman to find out more about his company.

A gaggle of Soul Poles.

Q: Bryon, tell me what led you to start Soul Poles.

A: I consider myself a product of my environment. I live in a beautiful place, and I want to conserve that as much as possible. Like a lot of people, I definitely see global warming as a threat. But I also think there are things we can do now to invoke change. This is particularly true in the ski industry, where there are all these products that are hard to recycle. We wanted to put the idea out there that you can reuse things to produce other products.

But we’re also entrepreneurs. And even though we wanted to be altruistic, that wasn’t our only motivation. We wanted to offer a sustainable product that we could successfully market. The idea of Soul Poles resonated with us.

Basically, we’re doing this for two reasons: To reduce our carbon footprint and to ignite change in the industry. It’s a worthy mission, and it’s something we’re hoping will catch on.

Q:  Bamboo is such a retro material. Years ago it was THE material for ski poles. So why’d you decide to use it now?

A: Well, one reason is we know it works. I was put in charge of all the research, looking into what we could source. Bamboo is highly renewable. It grows to full length in 90 days, it doesn’t need much water, and it doesn’t require any pesticides. It’s a grass, actually. But it has the tensile strength of steel, and it’s much stronger than the aluminum that most poles are made of. When you ski with it – there are over 2,000 species, and we’ve tested a bunch – it feels absolutely amazing.

Bamboo makes sense for a lot of reasons. There’s no compromise in strength or performance, and it’s extremely light. I took some of our poles heli-skiing with some people in Alaska, and everyone was really surprised by how light and strong they were.  We threw the poles in and out of the helicopter — banged them around quite a bit — with no problem. People are really excited that they’re sustainable, too. We put a bunch of prototypes in the rental market last winter and had no problems. Given the choice between a conventional pole and a Soul Pole, people choose a Soul Pole 90% of the time.

Q: I understand Soul Pole is also involved in recycling. Can you tell me something about that?

A: Part of our brand is not just to provide a sustainable, stylish pole, but to educate people that you can recycle ski products. Right now we have a partnership going with Recycle Utah. They’ve put out recycling bins to collect old poles for us. So far they’ve filled up two enormous bins, with very little PR. We can source some of the materials for our products this way or recycle them. We’re regrinding plastic to make our own grips and baskets.  We’re also going to use the recycled material we collect to make a handful of poles for local ski programs that need equipment, so we can give back to the community.

Soul Poles are made of recycled materials that are readily available. The key word here is available, since specific recycled materials are sometimes difficult to come by.  Currently we’re sourcing our grips and baskets from industrial-sized blender tops. We’re using hemp and recycled polyester for the straps, and we’re making our tips from a variety of recycled metals, such as aluminum and magnesium.  Cork and recycled tires aren’t readily available at the moment, but as they become more abundant we plan to use them as much as we can, if and when it makes sense.

Q: Soul Poles is an unusual name. What does it mean?

A: We chose it because we believe we’re giving soul to ski poles, an otherwise forgotten accessory. Between recycled materials and renewable resources and art design, our poles have soul because they’re extending the lives of other materials by combining them with bamboo.

Q: Are there different Soul Pole options available?

A: Right now we’re offering three different versions in sizes ranging from 44 to 55 inches. There’s our Original Soul, which comes in a natural bamboo color with a laser-engraved Soul Poles logo; our Vibrant Soul, that comes in a color designed by artist R. Nelson Parrish, also with the laser-engraved logo. And there’s our Limited Edition. We’ll only make 200 per design.They’re hand painted, with a color designed by R. Nelson Parrish, the laser-engraved Soul Poles logo, and a production number.

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As skiers, it’s in our own best interest to keep our carbon footprint to a minimum, not only to prevent global warming, but to preserve the beauty of the environment in which we ski. Obviously, eco-friendly ski gear alone isn’t going to save the world, but every little bit helps.

Soul Poles isn’t the only company marketing ski equipment. Liberty Skis, for example, uses bamboo laminate cores in all of its skis, too; another terrific idea.

Another interesting point about Soul Poles: The company is part of 1% For The Planet, an organization of companies that donate 1% of their sales to a network more than 2,600 environmental organizations worldwide. Kudos to Soul Poles.



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Love Winter, Hate The Oil Sands.

Like anyone who loves to ski, I love winter. So imagine a world where there’s no cold weather. Where it’s become too warm to snow. Where we’re not able — perish the thought — to ski!

So imagine if there was something we could do about it.

There is.

The Sierra Club recently launched a campaign called Love Winter, Hate The Oil Sands, to halt the drilling for oil sands in Canada. Oil sand production emits three times the pollution of conventional oil and requires clear cutting ancient forests, wasting and polluting water, and leaving behind massive toxic lakes. By accelerating climate change, the oil sands threaten to bring more drought, receding glaciers, and early snowmelt to the planet, creating a bleak future for sports like skiing and snowboarding.

The industry has proposed expanding into the US via a sprawling network of pipelines and refineries that would crisscross Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Minnesota and Illinois, in many cases using substandard pipe and threatening drinking water and farmland.

The oil sands project is being opposed by many top winter athletes, such as Alison Gannett, world champion freeskier and founder of the Save Our Snow Foundation.  I’m not in her league, but I’m against it, too.  If you want to join me in taking action against the oil sands, you can go hereto sign a petition to President Obama.

For more information about oil sands, go here. Or for more about Love Winter, Hate The Oil Sands, go here.
Let’s all do what we can to save a sport, and a season, we love.




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Walking to save our snow.

Anyone who loves to ski knows we’d be lost without our most essential element: Snow. And though many of us are aware of the dangers of global warming, not many of us actually get out there and do something about it.

That’s not the case with Alison Gannett, a World Champion Extreme Freeskier and a true champion of environmental efforts.

Founder of the Save Our Snow Foundation, Alison has trained individuals, businesses, and governments all over the world — including Al Gore’s Climate Project team — on solutions to climate change. She was recently named “Ski Hero of the Year,” and Outside magazine named her “A Green All-Star,” next to Leonardo DiCaprio and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (By the way, I interviewed Alison way back in September, 2008. You can see it here.)

Not content to rest on her laurels, Alison is at it again. To raise awareness and bring media attention to global warming, Alison is planning to walk over 200 miles towards the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference, or Cop15, which will be held next month in Copenhagen, Denmark. The century’s most important conference of its type, Cop15 will hopefully result in agreements to replace those reached at the conference in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. Throughout her walk, Alison will be carrying her skis on her back to bring ski and snow awareness to the urban landscape.

Saving our snow goes way beyond just preserving the sport we love. Snow and ice together provide almost half of the world’s drinking water and irrigation for food cultivation. It’s an effort all of us should get behind.

For more information and to contribute to her efforts, go here.

Oh, and just for some skiing stoke — and more about Alison — check this out:

Be sure to visit TheSkiDiva.com, an internet forum especially for women skiers, where women skiers can connect with one another to talk about everything and anything ski-related.



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