Next winter, Squaw Valley Ski Corporation, who have two resorts at Lake Tahoe in California, plans to source all its electricity from solar and other renewable sources. This will make it the first ski resort in the USA to power its operations without fossil fuels.
The campaign for the Emerald Link park in East Gippsland aims to protect the more-or-less intact ecosystems that run from the coast to the mountains. A long distance walking trail is an integral part of the proposal. The proposed Sea to Summit Forest Trail would create a network of walking tracks linking the coastal town of Bemm River and the existing Wilderness Coast walk to the summit of Mount Ellery, the highest mountain in far East Gippsland.
The biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show in the USA is an enormous event. This year it has relocated to Colorado in protest at the state government of Utah supporting moves by the Trump administration to gut protection for federal conservation reserves. This shift marks a growing willingness to act to protect wild lands.
Climate change is bearing down on us. The threat posed to people, economies and natural ecosystems is of a level only surpassed by the risk of nuclear war. For those of us who love mountains and winter, the threat is obvious enough: shorter, more erratic snow seasons.
While here in Australia we face a dwindling snow pack, it’s the same story in ranges around the world. For instance, in the Northern Cascades National Park, which contains 1/3 of the glaciers in the Lower 48 states of the USA, the glaciers have lost a half of their mass over the past century. Since 1955, the mountains of the western ranges of the USA have lost 23% of snowpack.
This is having a direct impact on local economies. Low snow seasons in the western USA between 2000 and 2010 cost the ski industry more than US$1B in lost revenue.
Many resorts and individual players in the snow industry have been stepping up and joining the fight against climate change. Park City in Utah is one of the latest.
Totally Renewable Yackandandah is a volunteer run community group, formed in 2014, with the goal of powering their town with 100% renewable energy and achieving energy sovereignty by 2022.
One of TRY’s standout projects is the TRY Perpetual Energy Fund (PEF), which raises funds from donations that are reinvested in community projects around Yack to increase energy efficiency, generate renewable electricity and for storage. Loans are repaid from the savings made on electricity bills and the Fund is perpetuated for community sustainability projects. The first project was with Yackandandah Health Service (YHS). In 2015, TRY raised $5,000, which was loaned to YHS for the energy efficiency improvements. The connection of a 90kW solar-panel system at Yackandandah Health Service (YHS) replacement of 276 light fittings with low maintenance LED lights.
TRY is a great example of community controlled initiatives which are designed to transition to a more sustainable basis while also building a sense of community power.
What level of threat do we need to experience before we act?
The evidence that climate change is bearing down on us is absolutely compelling. And it is clear in regards to what is coming: the mountains and wild country that we love, which feeds our spirit and helps define who we are, is facing a grave, and potentially existential, threat. Without serious and concerted action to radically reduce greenhouse pollution now, we will experience shorter, more erratic winters, and longer and more frequent fire seasons. It will mean more frequent drought, hotter temperatures, and species pushed up the mountains until they run out of habitat.
Yet for the most part we continue with business as usual. The clock keeps ticking and we keep looking out the window, possibly hoping someone else will do something. The silence of the people who love the mountains – skiers, riders, hikers, climbers – and the industries who survive by supplying these communities – ski resorts, outdoor gear and tour companies – is generally deafening.
That’s why we have to be grateful wherever there is a rumbling of change, where companies and constituencies stir, get organised and speak out. One recent example comes for the USA, where the outdoor industry has become galvanised in opposing plans to undo protections for many (currently protected) wild places.
The Bright Brewery is a key business in Bright in north eastern Victoria. It has grown steadily over the years, and has an impressive operation in a fantastic location. The brewery is connected to the community, supporting local musicians, and many initiatives, like bike rides and events, and recently the Bright Festival of Photography. It financially supports many initiatives in north east Victoria.
It also has a strong commitment to sustainability:
After a decade of inaction, the Australian snow industry is finally starting to engage meaningfully on the issue of climate change. With Perisher having been bought by the Vail Resorts group, it has been swept along in that companies efforts to achieve carbon neutrality for it’s operations by 2030. And Thredbo recently became the first Australian resort to formally join Protect Our Winters (POW) the activist group seeking to mobilise the snow sports community.
There is, of course, still plenty of room to move. Many resorts, like Mt Hotham, are still effectively in denial about climate change, opting for the ‘we’ll just invest more in snow making capacity’ option. But as the recent visit by POW founder Jeremy Jones showed, there is a significant interest in the snow community about climate change.
We are starting to see some great leadership from prominent skiers and riders like Nat Segal, who is a vocal advocate for climate action. The interview below comes from Powder magazine and features a conversation with Auden Schendler of the Aspen resort. Auden is often seen as a key global spokesperson on climate because of his work at putting Aspen on a sustainable footing. This reflection has some significant things to say about what is and what isn’t possible in the resorts and what is required if we are to take effective action to limit climate change.
Two salient points that stand out for me from this interview are:
“We have to acknowledge or understand as a starting point that to be sustainable has got to mean solving climate change.
On climate, if you’re not at risk politically or from public criticism, and if you don’t feel uncomfortable, if it doesn’t hurt, you’re probably not doing enough on climate”.
The take home message from Auden is that making your operations greener is not an end point. It’s part of the pathway to solving climate change. This is going to involve sustained and public advocacy for the adoption of policies which will tackle climate change in a meaningful way – ie, engagement in good old fashioned politics. As he eloquently puts it, it means advocating for ‘systemic change’.
He reminds us that the current option adopted by most resorts is simply not going to work:
‘You can’t adapt to where we’re headed … we’re headed toward four degrees Celsius’.
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.