Slick slopes, sustainability and the Great Lakes State

A national program outlines sustainability steps for ski resorts for over a decade now; Michigan is late to the table.

Slick slopes, sustainability and the Great Lakes State. Photo credit:
Slick slopes, sustainability and the Great Lakes State. Photo credit:

Although the ski season is well on its way and the winter more than half over, it is not too late to take into account sustainability when going skiing in the Great Lakes State or one of the many other states to receive enough snow to slick their slopes. Resorts are realizing their continued economic sustainability depends significantly on adopting and adhering to sound environmental practices both locally and globally. For ski resorts, no amount of waste reduction or water use reduction will do much good, without significant decreases of greenhouse gas emissions on a national and global scale in order to stabilize climate and snowfall where resorts operate.

A national program titled Sustainable Slopes was adopted in 2000 by the National Ski Areas Association, and “provides an overarching framework for ski areas on sustainability and enhanced environmental performance”. With an industry responsible for $7.5 billion in direct spending alone in the USA during 2013/14, and the ongoing issues of climate change affecting us all, it only made sense for the ski industry to adopt measures to address growing environmental issues. Every year, the Sustainable Slopes Environmental Charter outlines 21 principles ski area operators can follow in order to use natural resources sustainably. Those principles address specific areas such as planning, water, energy, waste and wildlife in addition to a number of other important topics.

As of 2012, only four Michigan ski resorts have adopted the charter according to Sally Barber in The Michigan Eco-Traveler: A Guide to Sustainable Adventures in the Great Lakes State. While not all resorts in Michigan have adopted sustainability principles in their operations, there are resources to help encourage ski resorts towards such action. Created in 2002, the Greening Your Ski Area Pollution Prevention Handbook outlines a number of measures ski resorts can take to implement greener practices. Case studies from several major Colorado ski resorts provide examples in environmental performance measurement, regulatory compliance and vehicle maintenance & lift operations, as well as sustainable design and construction. Smaller resorts seeking to implement energy saving measurements may find the NSAA’s Small Resorts Guide to Energy (2006) of specific use.

Users of ski slopes seeking to limit their impact can take a number of measures to be more sustainable as well:

  1. Commute to the slopes rather than driving separately.
  2. Purchase locally-grown food, organic and/or pack your own (rather than consuming goods imported from other states or countries).
  3. If staying at the resort, reusing towels in order to limit energy and water consumption
  4. Purchasing chemical-free waxes for ski/snowboard
  5. Research resorts ahead of time to learn of existing environmental policies that may or may not be in sync with your personal sustainability values, and select your resort with sound sustainability policies.

In addition, Barber’s recent publication, The Michigan Eco-Traveler: A Guide to Sustainable Adventures in the Great Lakes State, outlines a number of questions users with a sustainability mindset can consider before embarking on their next downhill ski adventure.

Michigan State University Extension has a number of resources for businesses and communities seeking to adopt for sustainable forms of development in their planning. For additional information or to speak with someone in this area of expertise please visit the MSU Extension website.

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