Is Skiing Sustainable?

I wrote on Monday about what a blast Thor and I just had on a Portland Parks and Recreation trip to Crater Lake, Oregon. Who’d have thought that skiing in a snowstorm could be so fun?

Since my vision of the diamond-cut life involves true sustainability, how sustainable was this group venture? Well, our crew of 22 created far fewer emissions with our snowshoes and cross-country skis than if we’d been on snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATV’s). And vanpooling with 11 people in each van was certainly fuel-efficient. But how about our polypropylene and fleece clothing, which is all petroleum-based? And what of the large amounts of embodied energy in our high-tech skis, poles and snowshoes?

Most folks on this trip were strongly drawn to sustainability, and a number of us worked in the field. The group agreed on the merits of green buildings, renewable energy and human services, but never questioned (out loud, at least) the lion’s share of resources embedded in our own sports equipment and clothing.

Which was quite human of us. It’s hard to be objective about yourself and your choices. But I’m trying to be objective, so: How do you not use the petroleum-based clothing that keeps you warm and dry in sub-freezing conditions? Once these things are invented, how can you abstain? People had plenty of fun in the snow before high-tech clothes and gear were invented. So why are we so hooked on the current inventions?

I’m good at being happy, at finding joy in simple things and the natural world and in most people I meet, but I don’t know how to truly transcend this materialistic, fossil-fuel-based culture that I was born into. I do not have all the answers on how to live the sustainable, diamond-cut life of my vision.

I am open to people’s best advice.


5 Responses to “Is Skiing Sustainable?”

  1. 1 Colleen March 19, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    You’ve brought up something many of us rarely think about when we go skiing. Bravo!

    I don’t know it this is the best advice out there, but I would say hanging on to your ski clothing/gear as long as possible is key. Not falling into the “latest and greatest” trap.

    To use a personal example: two years ago, I bought new ski pants after the ones I had developed a hole in the butt. I’d used those old ski pants for 19 years. (Yeah, they kept fitting me all those years — proof exercise really has its benefits, I suppose.)

    My husband, who skis more rugged terrain than I do, and skis three times as much as I do, has worn the same ski jacket for probably 8 years now.

    We try to really make an effort not to replace anything that really doesn’t need replacing. Of course we love to browse the new gear, we’re human after all. But as humans we are the species that can (and should) analyze most of our decisions before we make them.

  2. 2 Brian Davies March 20, 2008 at 2:21 am

    You know, I love my wool blend Patgonia socks and thought I’d check out their website to see if they had some soft wool underlayers etc. I didn’t find any, but I did find that their poly-pro undershirts can be recycled!

    This helps a bit I suppose. I also have an idea for picking up old worn out skis from thrift/ski shops to use as supports for my Rasberries. They’d last forever and be much cheaper than new poles from Home Depot. They’d probably even make a great lightweight fence material.

  3. 3 Tall Mike March 22, 2008 at 2:29 am

    I have one word – wool. It is the best fabric out there and the synthetics can’t match its properties. There are a few great companies who make excellent outdoor gear with the new superfine merino wool. Icebreaker (the original from NZ), Smartwool, but my favorite is Ibex. Ibex still makes their products in the US, and the cost is similiar to the big brands like Patagucci and the like. I have found that Ibex stuff also lasts longer.

    I really try to find things made locally (or at least in the US) and Portland is a great place to find local people who use renewable materials with outdoor gear and such. But Craigslist is a great source for used gear.

    I think if one tries to be resourceful and conservation minded, things will work out. Buy from companies who are local and use local materials. If you look around, you’ll be surprised what you find.

  4. 4 alison13 March 22, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    I love all this help my readers are giving me. Thanks!


  5. 5 Patty March 22, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Regarding synthetic outdoorwear, I tried wool, and it doesn’t work for me as a base layer. It doesn’t wick like petroleum-based fabrics, and I am always chilled. It was not a happy discovery for me. My favorite Smartwool outdoorwear shirt is no good for outdoorwear, I have to wear polypro-type fabrics.

    So I’m with the contingent that says, reuse. Wear these things as long as they are functional and comfortable. This is my approach to all plastics in my life, and to this end, I am the crazy lady who washes and dries her plastic bags to reuse them!

    And Tall Mike is on to something about used gear (recycling, right?!) and buying local. Less consumption of petroleum-based producsts all around!

    Thanks for this blog, Alison!


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