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Environmental activism, or at the least, awareness, is inextricably linked with the sport of cross-country skiing. The obvious and simple connection is that of snow. To ski, we need it, and the issue of global climate change is obviously relevant.

But the ties of environmentalism and skiing extend beyond snow and climate change. The value of open space, appreciation for the natural world, and related issues involving habitat, lifestyle, water quality, and much more can factor into the discussion.

On Monday, FasterSkier published an article by Audrey Mangan on the proposed snowmaking system at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in northern Vermont. The snowmaking plans aided Craftsbury in earning the right to host the 2012 SuperTour Finals, and in its attempt to position itself as a potential Thanksgiving on-snow destination.

Snowmaking is inherently not green. Significant electric power is needed to run snow guns, diesel fuel is burned moving artificial snow around, and water is usually drawn from a pond or lake.

But we live in a world of trade-offs, and we face choices of varying degrees of “evils.”

Kermit knows all about the challenges of being green.

If snowmaking does allow Craftsbury to host November skiing, New Englanders would no longer have to fly to points west for early-season snow, to potential significant environmental benefit. When you combine plane travel and car hours to reach the various snow meccas in the western portion of North America, there’s no denying the impact.

As is often the case, however, the picture quickly gets muddy. My own personal November travel plans have little immediate impact–my absence is not going to reduce the number of 737’s taking off on any given day. If enough people cut back on plane travel, there will eventually be change. But the impact of snowmaking is immediate–fuel is burned and power consumed.

My point here is that when it comes to being green, the issues are rarely as black and white as many would make it seem. But in some sense that is irrelevant. When it comes to being green and skiing, the challenge faced by all who participate in the sport is that these two things are inherently antithetical.

It is common for cross-country skiers to assume the high ground, often with a passionate arrogance, in relation to our alpine brethren. It is easy to look at diesel-guzzling generators powering high speed chairlifts, the constant snowmaking, the infrastructure required at a resort village, and conclude the cross-country skiing can glide away free of any responsibility.

But environmental issues aren’t purely relative. Just because cross-country skiing is better than alpine skiing in some respects doesn’t mean that we, as practitioners, absolved of responsibility. And the reality is that cross-country ski racing is decidedly not green–anyone who pretends it is so is fooling themselves.

Snow cats and snowmobiles burn diesel and gas respectively, and many of the older machines are far from efficient–both in terms of their emissions, and their fuel economy.

Travel, even in parts of the world with a high density of venues and races, is frequent and lengthy.

High end equipment is manufactured out of highly processed materials, and wax is very much a non-renewable resource.

Even recreational skiers can’t escape these issues–there will always be traveling to skiing, trail grooming, etc. The only truly green form of skiing would be to construct a pair of wooden skis without power tools and use them out your backdoor.

Some of us are lucky enough to actually be able to ski from our homes, and can self-groom a trail, but in general, being a cross-country skier, especially a racer, is to make the decision to participate in an un-environmental activity.

While there are some who are so committed to the cause of environmentalism that they are willing to structure their entire lives around principles of sustainability and conservation, most who take up the green mantle will go to a point, but not the extreme. Some recognize the inherent hypocrisy; others exist in a state of denial.

Would the state of the environment be better if no ski trails were groomed, no snowmaking installed, no long trips undertaken? Certainly. Obviously, the impact of such a change would be minimal compared to deforestation and the like, but the point is that skiing is not green. You may be hurting the environment less by cross-country skiing as opposed to racing motorcycles, but you are still part of the problem, not the solution.

At the end of the day, one of the most important things is to recognize the choices we make and the impact that they have. The Craftsbury Green Racing Project, a relatively new elite racing team based at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, took the bold step of making the environment part of its mission., and in doing so have come under some criticism–mainly because, as I said above, skiing is not green.

Naming the team as such may have been a mistake, in my opinion. It sets up an unwinnable battle: no matter how much they try, the team will be participating in all sorts of un-green activities as they pursue high-level ski racing.

Their mission is clear on this front, reading in part:

–       use sustainable systems in our own lives and in our communities

–       influence others in our communities to make environmentally conscious decisions

Both of these goals are attainable within the constructs of elite ski racing. Nowhere does it say the GRP strives to be 100% green. Instead, the message is simply to reduce impact without compromising the goals of the athletes–unquestionably a positive concept.

Other clubs and programs make similar efforts at various levels, though without the glitz of the name. This is a good thing, and something that should be continued.

Is there any point here? Basically that it is important to be realistic about what it means to be a ski racer – especially in regards to the environment. Do what you can, and make your choices with intention and recognize the hypocrisy.

And be careful about riding the high horse when it comes to criticizing other sports.

One Response to “It’s Not Easy Being Green”

  1. David Ford Says:

    Very well said. I have been entering in similar conversations often, as many of us cross country skiers and back country skiers take the holier then though approach to their alpine brethren. The topic fosters great debate when you include the raw materials used in all of our equipment and whence it came. If all the industry players and practitioners can just get a grasp on the total impact of their actions, then maybe we can each find some impacts that we can easily lessen once we are all more aware.