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Mountain Journal

Environment, news, culture from the Australian Alps

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ski resorts

Vail aims to become a ‘sustainable tourism destination’

Mountain Journal recently reported that the famous Colorado resort of Vail had announced its intention to ‘commit to zero net emissions (partly through use of renewable energy to run its operations), zero waste to landfill and zero net operating impact to forests and habitat by the year 2030’.

Vail is a town built around ski field development. While only about 5,500 people live there (supported by a large ‘down valley’ community in towns like Avon and Edwards who must commute to work) it hosts as many as 2.8 million visitors a year.

Aspen, located to the south west, is probably better known for its sustainability efforts, but Vail’s commitment is ambitious. The recent announcement on energy and waste came from Vail Resorts Inc, the company that runs the resort operations. There is also a commitment from the Town of Vail, based in the valley below the resort, to become North Americas first sustainable tourist destination certified through the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

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Vail commits to zero net emissions by 2030

Unless we act decisively now, climate change poses an existential threat to life as we know it. For people who love the outdoors or whose livelihood relies on good snowfall or a healthy environment – the skiing and outdoor industries – there is an added incentive to be engaged and active.

No person, business or sector can solve the problem on their own, but that’s kind of the point: we need all hands of deck to deal decisively with this looming threat.

It’s good to remember that many in the community are taking action. Around the world there is a growing willingness to be actively involved in responding to climate change – through mitigation (reducing the production of greenhouse gases), supporting behaviour change, engaging in advocacy, and developing cleaner production methods.

Here are two good news stories from the USA.

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What is happening with the lease at Perisher?

In Victoria, ski resorts operate on designated permanent Crown land reserves, each managed by a Resort Management Board appointed by, and responsible to, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water. The Boards are responsible for the development, promotion, management and use of each Alpine Resort. In contrast, the resorts in NSW exist within the Kosciuszko National Park and operate through negotiating a lease with the government through the Parks Service (NPWS). They are then required to develop an environmental management system (EMS), which seeks to regulate and minimise the impacts of the operation on the natural environment.

As has been reported widely in regional media, it has been recently announced that the Parks Service has not granted any company a new head lease arrangement for Perisher Range in their recent Governance Review. Having a head lease allows the holder of the lease to then sublet to other businesses such as venues, accommodation, family lodges, etc.

This has caused a lot of anxiety among businesses, both in the park and adjacent communities who are reliant on the smooth functioning of the industry. While it is obviously essential that the conditions of the lease ensures minimal impacts on the surrounding environment, the uncertainty in terms of the future of Perisher and Charlotte Pass is very stressful for people whose livelihoods depend on these operations. One local owner said “NPWS made the announcement publicly before the stakeholders knew that it was off the table ….this means that clubs are unable to accept bookings for the following year or budget, invest or plan due to lack of vision first & foremost.”

The following article written by Steve Cuff comes from the Snowy Mountains Magazine, and provides a comprehensive overview of what the delay means for businesses (and hence the ski industry in general).

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The ski industry and climate change. The denial continues

We’re now into early July and the only skiable ski in any of the resorts is there because of snow making. And while everyone in the ski industry knows what’s happening when it comes to climate change, they continue happily on the pathway of ‘diversification’, expanding activities in the ‘green season’ and investment in snow making equipment, to the exclusion of any meaningful action on climate change.

I always struggle to understand this. Surely any smart business can ‘walk and chew gum’ at the same time – in this case that would mean diversifying your year-round tourism ‘offerings’ while investing in snow making while also walking the talk on climate. Its also called mitigation, it means doing things like shifting your operations to using renewable energy instead of coal. What is astonishing is that there is so little meaningful action by Australian resorts.

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A perspective on the future of Australian snow

Dave Bain

This piece follows on from a previous article I wrote in 2012 for Protect Our Winters (POW) (Bain 2012). It takes a quick look at what the observed trends have been in Australian snowfalls over the past few decades. Regardless of people’s stance on climate change, these observations are a hard look at the likely future of Australia’s alpine environment, and our winter enjoyment.

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Action now means more snow later

We all know that winter is in trouble. Climate change is already impacting on snowfalls and winters are becoming more erratic.

A recent report commissioned by the Alpine Resorts Co-ordinating Committee (ARCC) confirmed, yet again, the grim prognosis facing the snow industry and snow lovers if we don’t take serious action to radically reduce our contribution to global warming.

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Early open at resorts

The Alps received some fantastic snow falls in the last couple of days, prompting at least two resorts to announce they will open a week early.

Perisher has announced it will open a week early (Saturday June 3). Queen’s Birthday weekend is the traditional start to the season in the resorts.

Mt Buller has also been promoting its new snow making technology. The resort spent $1.6m on its ‘Snowfactory’, which is already making and stockpiling artificial snow, and is now spreading this to create a base for operations.Mt Buller will start operations from friday night (June 2).

Hotham has also invested $4.4 million in snowmaking over the past two summers, with the new system, covering more terrain, ready to go. Most resorts have started making snow on the back of this recent weather system. There is a nice summary of how the resorts fared in terms of snowfall on Mountain Watch.

The question, of course, is: is this the start of the 2017 snow pack, or the last autumn snow fall?

Snow forecaster The Grasshopper suggests that 2017 will be a ‘slightly worse than average season’ but it now looks like we will skiing/ riding opportunities over the Queen’s Birthday weekend, at least in the resorts. And unless there is some kind of rain event disaster in the next couple of weeks, it looks like this is the beginning of the base for the season.

The 2017 Alpine Industry Conference

In early May, the Alpine Resorts Co-ordinating Council (*) (ARCC) hosted the ‘Alpine Industry Conference’ in Marysville.

While many participants were understandably focused on the imminent announcement about what will happen to the alpine resort management boards, and the overall theme of the conference was ‘managing a changing landscape’, a key issue was the threat posed by climate change to the very survival of the ski industry.

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Reducing the impact of our snow obsession

Outside magazine recently posted a great piece on the environmental impact of skiing/ riding. Well, one particular aspect – the amount of carbon pollution we produce through driving or flying to get to ski destinations.

They tracked and collated the travel mileage during winter of their most snow-obsessed staff, then consulted a carbon offset specialist, who estimated they would have to plant 704 trees to sequester all the carbon generated.

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