Skiing on Garbage to Help Green Ski Season

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In a few years, skiers in Copenhagen will swish down black-diamond slopes while garbage burns underneath them. The garbage incinerator/ski resort is being billed as a year-round green retreat for skiers seeking powder while promoting the city’s mission to become carbon-neutral.

Meanwhile, skiers at Canyons Resort in Park City, Colo., line up for a ski lift with heated seats -- “talk about carbon emission!” said Jorge Rivera, associate professor of public policy at George Washington University, who is working on a paper on how ski resorts are adapting to climate change.

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The two represent opposite ends of how ski resorts are responding to global warming. Today, the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition released its annual report card that ranks ski resorts in the western United States on their environmental impact.

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While this year’s report found that ski resorts are increasingly using alternative energy produced onsite, the expansion of many resorts continues to infringe on wildlife and reduce water quality of nearby streams.

Even since it started issuing scores 12 years ago, climate change has become more of a threat to the sport -- so much so that researchers have shifted how criteria are weighted in the scorecard. The 2013-14 version, for example, gives more credence to issues related to climate change than the inaugural scorecard.

“We’re getting worse and worse ski seasons, which increases the need for snowmaking, which starts a cycle” because the more water is artificially added to the environment, the less snow actually falls, said Gavin Feiger, senior program associate for the Sierra Nevada Alliance, which coordinated the scorecard.

At Bear Mountain near Los Angeles, for example, snow guns are a necessity.

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“Snowmaking equipment makes skiing possible there,” Rivera said. “Twenty years ago, they didn't need to make that much.”

That equipment has gotten more efficient, and some resorts have found innovative ways to use their resources: Arizona Snowbowl, for example, recycles its sewage water into snow.

Researchers have used the Coalition’s scorecards to pinpoint how resorts are affecting the local and global environment.