Many of the operators of cross country (xc) ski areas are eco-active, or in other words they are exemplary of the "greening" of xc skiing. They pay heed to ideals such as: protecting scenic values and wildlife habitats, practicing water and energy conservation, reducing waste and reusing products, designing and building facilities in an environmentally-sensitive manner, managing forest and vegetation properly, handling potentially hazardous waste properly and educating their clientele and staff about environmental awareness and their eco-activity. Some common themes among operators are evident, such as, wildlife sensitivity, using biodegradable hydraulic fluid in snowcats that groom the trails, and trail designing for streambed protection. These eco-active efforts are not typically hundred thousand dollar investments, but xc ski area operators have much to be proud of with many small but meaningful accomplishments.
Many areas are conducting environmental interpretive group programs and many display trail signs to tell their environmental story. For example, a simple idea that is done at Kirkwood Cross Country in Kirkwood, California is the listing of recent wildlife sightings on its trailhead blackboard. At Devil's Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colorado, a geothermal heating system is used in the majority of its new buildings. The system consists of glycol-filled pipes that have been installed in the Ranch's on site lake. Heat is transferred to the glycol from the water, and then heated to 105 degrees by compressors in each building. The pipes are placed in the flooring providing radiant heat. The system uses very little electricity.
The White Grass Ski Touring Center in Canaan, WV is the recipient of the WV Environmental Council's 2003 Green Entrepreneurs Award. The facility is heated soley with wood and used about $2.50 worth of electricity a day. Environmental education is a key element at White Grass as there are regular outings in the WV Highlands Conservancy and the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center in VT has incorporated sustainability in its mission statement and set an ambitious goal to be fossil-fuel free by the end of 2012. They use solar panels for electric, highly efficient wood-fired boilers for heating, and a solar hot water system. The food and compost system is working to minimize trash and help to grow food in the on-site gardens.
Want to visit a sustainable resort that practices what it preaches? Nipika Mountain Resort in BC is off grid for its power. It uses micro-hydro and solar. The furniture is built on site with wood from trees that were killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle. The "Interpretive Trappers Cabin" is loaded with info about wildlife, natural surrounding, history, telescope, and more. See full story at Eco-Resort Extraordinaire. And in the northeast US, the Maine Huts & Trails organization has built eco-lodges that are off the power grid with solar energy, wood fired heat, and composting toilet systems.
Ted Young of Boundary Country Trekking on the Gunflint Trail in MN will offset the carbon produced on the Banadad Trail (such as snowmobile grooming) by investing in reforestation in the area. They'll determine the cubic tons of carbon emissions associated with trail maintenance volunteers' transportation to the site and grooming machinery and other mechanical equipment used on the trail. They will sequester a number of acres to match the amount of carbon taken by red and white pines to derive a dollar amount value to contribute to the "Gunflint Green Up" tree-planting program. This is a planting estimated at 75,000 trees! Boundry Country Trekking has a sustainability statement and a comprehensive implemention plan at the boundary country implementation.html that is tops in the xc ski world.
A photovoltaic solar power system, which is producing as much power in a year as they consume was installed at Stump Sprouts in Hawley, MA. All of the buildings are heated with and most of the hot water comes from wood sustainably harvested from the woods adjoining the trail system. All food waste is composted and they recycle about 2/3 of the remaining waste. They try to serve as much locally grown food as possible and grow most of their own produce in the summer. At estimated 40 percent of the Stump Sprout guests live within 30 miles of the trails.
Soldier Hollow, which was the Utah site of all of the Nordic skiing events at the 2002 Olympics has an 11,000 square foot lodge built with recycled timbers as construction materials for building beams, columns, perlins, siding, interior roof, baseboard, and casing. Approximately 90 percent of the wood used in the lodge was salvaged from a 1902 railroad trestle that once crossed the Great Salt Lake. The bridge was no longer used in the 1950's and a wood reclamation project extracted the materials from under the water. Devil's Thumb Ranch has also rescued a Civil War-era barn from Indiana to frame its Broad Axe Barn with hand-hewn white oak and beech beams. In addition, the Ranch's roads and parking lots are constructed with recycled asphalt from a highway construction project.
Other Eco-Active Examples
An inventive environmental idea at Sleepy Hollow Inn, located in Huntington, Vermont runs its tractor on bio-diesel fuel, which is comprised of any kind of vegetable oil. This reduces emissions such as carbon monoxide, but it also provides better engine lubricity and is less expensive to run. Sleepy Hollow also offers free skiing (one time) to anyone, who drives to the area's trails in a hybrid, electric or bio-diesel powered vehicle. Maplelag in Callaway, Minnesota is an active tree farm on the White Earth Indian Reservation where it has planted thousands of trees and has created more than 20 ponds to benefit wildlife there. Hardwood Hills in Oro Station, Ontario designed and installed a septic system that recovers most of the water, which enters the system. The water is filtered, diluted, and recycled for use in the snowmaking system. Devil's Thumb Ranch has installed EPA-approved specially designed chimneys that minimize emissions from wood burning fireplaces.
Cross country skiing brings people outdoors to appreciate nature - and at such a slow pace, skiers can not help but be affected by nature's beauty and spiritual wonder. Many xc ski area operators are committed to creating and implementing innovative and effective environmental programs to enhance eco-awareness and foster responsible stewardship of natural resources. It's a natural symbiotic relationship!
Located in the beautiful wilderness region of western Maine, Maine Huts & Trails offers backcountry hut-to-hut adventures coupled with comfortable and friendly accommodations in lodges that are equipped as self-reliant and sustainable.
In 2008, an effort to create software was undertaken by a group of companies representing about 100 apparel brands to measure environmental impact of products from "cradle to grave" or more explicitly, from raw material to garbage dump.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, this so-called Eco Index was intended to perform similar to the Energy Star rating of appliances. The Eco Index concept was officially announced in August 2010 at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. It provided comparative perspectives of brands with relation to environmental and human rights issues. Another way of looking at it is as a sustainability barometer for operations or a litmus test for product greenness.
Some of the companies involved in this effort included Nike, Levi Strauss, Target, Adidas, Timberland, Columbia, and Patagonia. Most consumers are not aware of factors involved with the apparel business such as the toxic chemicals used for leather tanning, crude oil used in the manufacture of synthetic fabrics, incredibly low wages and no benefits for foreign workers, and excessive shipping distances for manufacturing various aspects of apparel. In 2008, Americans discarded 12.4 million tons of textiles, up from 1.8 million tons in 1960.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition was formed in 2011 and the Higg Index 1.0 was developed and launched in July 2012 as primarily an indicator based tool for apparel that enables companies to evaluate material types, products, facilities and processes based on a range of environmental and product design choices. The Index asks practice-based, qualitative questions to gauge environmental sustainability performance and drive behavior for improvement. It is based largely on the Eco Index and Nike's Apparel Environmental Design Tool, however it has been significantly enhanced through a pilot testing period.
The Higg Index 1.0 is a tool to help organizations standardize how they measure and evaluate environmental performance of apparel products across the supply chain at the brand, product and facility levels. It enables rapid learning through identification of environmental sustainability hot spots and improvement opportunities and it's a starting point of engagement, education, and collaboration among stakeholders in advance of more rigorous assessment efforts.
The Higg Index 1.0 will help both small and large companies to identify challenges and capture on-going improvement. It targets a spectrum of performance that allows beginners and leaders in environmental sustainability, regardless of company size, to identify opportunities. The Eco Index software provided a self-reported score of points on various questions regarding raw material, production, shipping, and disposal. A brand could score points with for example, a wastewater purifying system, a recycling program, good labor standards, less bulky packaging, and even washing in cold instead of hot water. There were estimations involved in the scoring system and proof was not required. In the future, the Higg Index is intended to provide more quantitative feedback, weighting of factors, and verification of the details. It will also be extended to footwear and equipment businesses.
This industry index concept is a beginning but we do not know how much of a motivational factor that it may become in the eyes of consumers. It is admirable that competitors have come together to work on this concept and many of the participating companies have previously undergone an internal analysis of these issues. Environmental issues are driving some product design these days such as printed info on garments instead of separate tags and using less or recycled packaging. And not surprisingly, many of the applicable design ideas save processing costs, too. If such a self-analysis helps companies to change and vie for a higher score, we all will win.
Recently, a gentleman from Quebec drove his 2012 Ford Focus Electric car up the Mt. Washington Auto Road to the summit of the Northeast’s highest peak. This was the first mass produced all electric vehicle to reach the peak taking the winding 8-mile road with an average grade of 12%.
Sylvain Juteau of Three Rivers, Quebec drove the car 800 miles from his home town to a vacation in Maine and then decided to take the car to the summit of nearby Mt. Washington, located in Pinkham Notch, NH. He commented, “You can easily get 100,000 miles from your batteries and brake pads and the real time data you get from the car teaches you to drive more intelligently while the brakes regenerate the battery when you slow down.”
The car requires 2.5 hours to charge and can run on the charge for about 100 miles. Juteau used about half of his available charge on the way up and he recovered and recharged on the way down the mountain road. The auto road is one of the nation’s oldest man-made attractions opening in 1861. In fact, the first automobile that climbed the road in 1899 was a Stanley Steamer driven by Freelon O. Stanley himself. For info about the auto road check www.mtwashingtonautoroad.com
This story brought back memories of my first ride in a hybrid Toyota Prius in 2001with a friend, who was a newly elected official in Colorado. One of the perks of his political position was a vehicle to use and my friend felt compelled to request a hybrid car instead of a 4-wheel drive that the other officials had always requested. Over the years, this memory encouraged me to often suggest that all government automobile purchases should be electric vehicles… and while the government might put its money where its mouth should be, all public buildings should have roof top solar collectors, too. Can you imagine what this level of purchases would do for these products or how it could lead the way to fight climate change?
Instead, even though there have been 200,000 of the Toyota Prius sold this year, it was recently announced that General Motors has idled the assembly plant that manufactures the electric Chevy Volt because they’ve sold less than half of their annual projection (13,500 cars sold and 40,000 projected sales). The electric Nissan Leaf has sold 4,288 this year through August. And the Ford Focus Electric vehicle, the car that made it to the top of Mt. Washington has sold only 169 (in the USA). Think about the number of vehicles if every level of government (town, city, county, state, Federal) was mandated to purchase electric vehicles starting this year…hmmm, that’s a big number.
Erik Sports, a Nordic and snowshoe equipment supplier for more than three decades decided to increase company sustainability by addressing building power and heating needs in its Tranquility, NJ location. The company is most known for the White Woods brand of Nordic and snowshoe products.
Company president, Michael Messler spoke with XCSkiResorts.com about the renovation projects including an upgrade to plant lighting, retrofitting the boiler, and solar panel installation for thermal and photovoltaic purposes. These projects brought both environmental and financial advantages to the company's operation.
The lighting upgrade provides improved light and it will result in 65-70% in energy savings, A wood boiler replaced the oil-powered heating system. This system will be integrated with a solar thermal unit so that the wood will be used only as a backup. These undertakings and investments make Erik Sports one of the most sustainable product companies in the business.
Swix Sports USA based in Haverhill, MA has a new facility that features high efficiency heating systems, motion-controlled lighting throughout the warehouse, and a self-regulated low flow water system. The solar array on the roof covers the 53,000 square foot warehouse sending about 343,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year back to the grid. The $1.5 million solar project was thanks to an agreement with Leewood Realty and it displaces more than 600,000 pounds of CO2 and could provide electricity for 34 homes for a year.
Fischer Ski Company has had a biomass CHP plant for heat in its Austrian manufacturing facility since 2001. Special water treatment filter systems have achieved a reduction of 40% in the use of industrial water. A Fischer ski production plant in the Ukraine was changed to 100% renewable energy in 2009, but details were not available in the company information about the plant. In the years 2001-2010, Fischer operations have lowered carbon emissions by 84.7%.
Madshus, a brand within the K2 Skis company has introduced some cross country ski boots in its line that do not incorporate PVC (poly-vinyl chloride), which is claimed to be harmful to the environment. PVC is a material that is often used in boot soles.
More green efforts accomplished by product suppliers will be posted in the Green Room as they become available.
One of the most eco-oriented resorts in the world is Nipika Mountain Resort in Canada's Kootenay National Park near Invermere, British Columbia. Proprietor Lyle Wilson told XCSkiResorts.com, "We operate in non-consumptive ways and when people drive here and park their cars, we remind them to keep their car keys in an obvious place so they can remember them because while they're here, they'll forget about their cars all together." The resort has 13 buildings including a lodge, cabins, and other facilties that are off the power grid.
The car-free holiday at Nipika Mountain Resort is an extravaganza of 100% self-propelled nonmotorized recreational activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, mountain biking, paddling, hiking, ice skating, and sledding. The resort has 13 buildings that were mostly hand-built using timber from trees that grew within 100 meters of the site. Even the furniture in the lodge and cabins was built in the resort's woodworking shop, much of it by hand. The pine beetle infestation has killed many trees in the area, but it has also supplied plenty of wood so there was no need to use live trees for the construction.
Nipika Mountain Resort powered by 20 solar panels, which produce 3,500 amp hours stored in batteries. The energy transforms from the battery power to AC using inverters for electricity. There are few appliances (no TV or phones) at Nipika and Wilson proudly asserts that the entire resort uses one third of an average family house in the city.
The facilities are heated with a central wood boiler that sends hot water to radiant floor piping and a heat exchanger tank to keep the lodge and each cabin warm. And there are wood stoves and a propane-based backup system to assure comfort at the resort.
Nipika has an organic vegetable garden to grow mostly root crops. And an older grooming machine is employed to maintain the trails, which has a smaller engine and saves fuel compared to current snowcat groomers. Wilson is investigating the use of biodiesel fuel for the groomer, too. The staff works to enhance the wildlife habitat on the property and there is an interpretive cabin that is used as a learning center about nature and history in the surrounding area.
So if you want to experience a highly sustainable operation in action situated in a vast wilderness playground, visit Nipika Mountain Resort.
The recent news about the impacts of climate change on the snow sports industry is frankly not news to those in the cross country ski world. While a small segment of the $12.2 billion snow sports business, the cross country ski world has been vulnerable to the vagaries of Mother Nature since its inception (commercial cross country ski areas in the US began in the late sixties, but cross country skiing dates back to drawings on cave walls in 4,000 BC).
The report called Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States, was commissioned by Protect Our Winters (POW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) with scientists at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The study results tie specific climate data to hard numbers relating to projected business losses for the snow sports industry and the U.S. economy as a whole.
Professional skiers and snowboarders went with POW to Washington last year to lobby Congress to act on legislation to curb climate change and they painted a "clear picture" of how warmer weather is impacting winter sports. Senators from both sides thanked POW and the athletes for their view but they said they needed to know about the economic impact in their states before they could think about climate legislation. So POW joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council to place a value on winter and the data shows that winter tourism is a $12.2 billion industry in 38 states. For the 2009-10 winter season New York state alone had a winter tourism industry that supported more than 14,000 jobs and generated $846 million.
Jeremy Jones, founder of the POW organization is scheduled to attend and be recognized as a "Champion of Change" at a White House ceremony on April 11, 2013. A letter signed by 75 of the top snow sports athletes including World Champion Cross Country Ski Sprinter Kikkan Randall, will be handed to President Obama at the ceremony. The letter references the data in the report and asks the President to take action on climate, on behalf of all of us who love and work in snow sports. It'll be a powerful statement from the snow sports community, delivered by our sports icons.
The report based on University of New Hampshire research claimed that the alpine ski industry draws $1 billion less revenue during a poor snow season than it does during a good one and such a business downturn translates to a loss of between 13,000 to 27,000 jobs. Of course, the alpine ski business deploys machine-made snow, so only cold temperatures are needed to cover the slopes with snow. But the rise in temperatures can impact snowmaking opportunities thus cutting the depth of the snow and the length of the ski season. With cross country ski areas the lack of snow (particularly if it rains when it’s not cold enough) can kill prime segments of the ski season such as the holiday period or key weekends. Fewer than 40 commercial cross country ski resorts in North America use snowmaking machines to cover trails; see article at Snowmaking at XC Ski Resorts Becomes Imperative.
“The industry hasn’t done a good job on educating leaders on the raw science and hasn’t made enough of a public statement on climate,” Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at the Aspen Skiing Company resort area in Colorado told the New York Times. “It needs to ramp that up radically in the same way that the insurance industry has recognized climate change as an existential threat.”
NSAA, the ski area association in the USA stated that it adopted its Climate Change policy in 2002 that includes a three- pronged strategy in fighting climate change: reduce, educate, and advocate. Moreover, ski areas have been weighing in on energy and climate legislation in Washington for more than a decade.
NSAA also launched a “Climate Challenge” program two years ago, through which participating resorts inventory their green house gas emissions, set targets for reduction, reduce their carbon footprint and take other measures.
At this point, while the alpine ski industry can "weather" the challenge with snowmaking, the cross country ski industry and snowmobile industry are more susceptible to climate change, and they need some action to begin turning things around.