Environmental impact of ski resorts

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In many cities and countries in the world skiing is a very popular recreational sport during the winter months. The area in which skiing occurs is known as ski resort. Ski Resorts are prevalent in mountainous regions where snow is plentiful. These populated ski resorts receive a lot of business per season, and with a high amount of activity the impact of waste and pollution can be clearly seen[citation needed]. Ski resorts are found mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, the most famous being in Canada, the United States, and the French, Swiss, Italian and Austrian Alps. In North America, it is common for towns featuring ski resorts to become a tourist destination. Most of these resort fit the ski station model much better[citation needed] as they are self-contained areas where as in Europe, contrastingly, "ski stations," are not utilized. These are skiing facilities that are located near local towns or villages such as Saas Fee, Verbier, Kitzbuel. The European model causes less environmental impact, due to the fact that there is less likelihood of expansion into a commercial area such as a town or city.

Ski run preparation and maintenance[edit]

Skiing areas include patrolled areas with marked runs for skiers or snowboarders, which are often referred to as "trails" (US) or "pistes" (EU) and typically have one or more chairlifts with which to move skiers to the top of the peaks. For bunny slopes, rope tows are also used. Larger ski resorts may provide a gondola service, which is a type of aerial tram used to transport skier across long distances. Both rope tows and gondola services involve the installation and maintenance of heavy machinery, which may disrupt local habitats. Ski runs are basically permanent clear cuts, and new development has paved over land making the habitat of many species uninhabitable. Studies have concluded that deforesting areas to open ski runs enhances the annihilation of declining interior forest species. Constructing additional ski runs in undisturbed areas and building more access roads degrades the original ecosystem. The grading or blasting of slopes with bulldozers causes long-term environmental impacts. These slope modifications split the habitat and migration patterns of interior forest species such as lynx and can result in the loss of old growth forests. The creation of new ski runs has a more significant impact on the environment than ski runs that have been altered or logged previously.

Many resorts use machinery to maintain the surface of their slopes. This grooming process is often done by "producing snow," by means of spraying water into cold air to supplement and enhance the slope surface. This practice lessens the effect of the frequent skier traffic on the surface of the ground. This process also counteracts the natural weather patterns and may interfere with local vegetation and animal life.[1]

Ski competitions[edit]

Another form of entertainment for many skiers is competitions. Ski resorts can boost their revenues by hosting ski or snowboarding competitions. These competitions bring in thousands of spectators, multitudes of equipment and they increase local commerce.[2] Environmentally speaking, these competitions destroy a significant portion of local vegetation and have the potential to displace a variety of species due to the creation of competition structures, i.e. ramps and half-pipes.[citation needed]


The most successful ski resorts offer lodging options for their paying customers. This allows for further enterprise for the resorts themselves, as well as an opportunity for participants to ski more hours of the day. These resorts involve the development of thousands of acres, thereby displacing many local species of plants and animals as well as affecting the local air quality. There are many negative effects that development and construction have on the land around ski resorts. Construction strips an area of vegetation and exposes the soil to sediment run-off in streams. It also requires a variety of sewer lines and power lines. Parking lot construction has similar consequences. Moreover, water quality is negatively affected by accidental spills of oil and anti-freezing chemicals. Zoning regulations are often overlooked or forgotten. Remodeling or construction on previously disturbed lands is becoming more common at ski resorts from Tahoe to Vermont, as the sport is at its peak and only becoming more popular. Concerning development, ski resorts are always looking for a way to maximize profits outside of the actual skiing component of the industry. In order to keep skiers on their mountains, they keep season and day passes relatively cheap. Because of this, their monetary gain comes primarily from the development of condominiums, hotels and restaurants. The space that is needed for such construction is extensive, and it comes at the hands of the environment. Many resorts also boast a variety of amenities such as snowmobiling, sledding, horse drawn-sleds, dog-drawn sleds, swimming pools, hot tubs, casinos, clubs, cinema, etc. Each of these activities can also disturb local ecosystems.

Impact on wildlife and forests[edit]

Ski resorts undoubtedly have an immense impact on their surrounding environments. Beyond the manicured slopes, lies a delicate populace of plants and animals, whose balance is interrupted by the impact of such resorts and the tourism they attract. A dominant factor in the displacement of plant and animal species is the construction and enlargement of ski-pistes.[3] Ski-pistes are maintained with artificial snow. The longer this artificial snow is maintained in any given environment, the larger the impact on woody plants, snow bed species, and late-flowering species.

One population that has seen changes due to ski resorts is bird diversity. For example, bird species richness and diversity is lowest near ski-runs. This research suggests that ski-pistes have a direct impact on local bird communities and also may have an indirect, detrimental effect on bird density in nearby plots. Factors that also could contribute to this pattern are: habitat type, altitude and food sources. A main food source for many bird species is invertebrates, whose populations decrease with the development of a ski run/piste. Scientists suggest creating new, innovative and environmentally conscious ways to construct ski pistes, i.e. preserving as much of the natural soil and vegetation as possible. They also suggest that when restoring ski-pistes, resort workers should attempt to recover and maintain the local plant life and make supplementary enhancements to invertebrate communities.

Waste and water usage[edit]

Ski resorts use vast amounts of water to make snow and for building usage. Artificial snow creation is increasingly being used worldwide in ski resorts receiving lower snowfall[citation needed]. The problem with snow creation is the large amount of water that is needed in order to create snow. As an example, one ski resort produced over 300 tons of new snow from natural water sources[citation needed]. Most well established ski resorts use water from man made reservoirs, when this is not possible water is taken from rivers and other natural sources, which depletes natural sources and has negative effects on the ecosystems although, in the spring, the snow melts and returns to the water table[citation needed]. Waste is also a prevalent issue because of the sheer amount that is generated annually by the guests and the resort itself. In addition to solid waste, air pollution is produced by gases from the combustion of fossil fuels for transportation and the operation of ski resorts. The gases emitted from the ski resorts or their customers have a negative effect on air quality[citation needed].

Global climate change[edit]

Snow cover will be adversely affected by global climate change, because within the last 30 years global climate change has been responsible for a 10% reduction in snow fall. Due to increasing temperatures, there will be more rain rather than snowfall annually. Further, snow will melt earlier in the spring and cause ski seasons to end early. Climate change will strongly affect ski resorts, because these resorts will be forced to reduce the length of their seasons.[4] Resorts will need to start their seasons later, and end their seasons earlier if they do not receive enough snowfall. The regions that are the hardest hit are the lower elevation regions. It is expected that winter temperatures will continue to rise in the future; and so, snow will become less frequent and there will be an increase in rainfall that will adversely affect the seasons of ski resorts.

Environmental practices and policies[edit]

Some ski resorts in Colorado have begun to encourage environmental practices and policies through offsetting electricity use. This is done by buying renewable energy certificates from wind farms and through the redevelopment of resort bases. In order to govern these new environmental protocols, the certificates dictate the amount of water and lumber use. The vehicles use bio diesel when being utilized, and further the walls of some of the vehicles are insulated by recycled cotton. Still others have explored the possibility of powering some of their lifts using wind turbines. They have also newly installed ‘low-flow public toilet fixtures’ that are saving up to nine Olympic swimming pools' worth of water annually. These new green methods have helped to encourage staff to share bikes to get around the resorts.[5]

Social organizations[edit]

A number of social organizations have emerged that work to protect the environment and lessen the environmental impact of ski resorts. Two such organizations are the Ski Club of Great Britain and the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition. They work to analyze which ski resorts are environmentally friendly by looking at traffic mitigation and elimination strategies, fuel-efficient and energy-saving tactics, sound water-management practices, habitat conservation, and waste and water use management improvements.[6]

Ski Club of Great Britain[edit]

The vision of the ski club of Great Britain is to raise awareness with regards to environmental and safety issues connected to snowsports, to fund environmental projects connected to snowsports, and to offer educational information to skiers, snowboarders and the snowsports industry[7]

Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition[edit]

The Ski Area Citizens' Coalition works to promote environmental stewardship. By evaluating ski area responsiveness to the needs of environmental stewardship, local communities, and the recreational public in a manner that is consistent to changing economic and environmental policies, we can potentially influence current business practices and trends to be increasingly more eco-friendly.[8]


  1. ^ Wipf, Sonja; Christian Rixen; Markus Fischer; Bernhard Schmid; Veronika Stoeckli (2005). "Effects of ski piste preparation on alpine vegetation". Journal of Applied Ecology 42 (2): 306–316. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2005.01011.x. ISSN 0021-8901. 
  2. ^ Bonney, M. (2007). Eight straight for girls. Jackson Hole News and Guide, p. 1.
  3. ^ Wipf, S., C. Rixen, M. Fischer, B. Schmid and V. Stoeckli. 2005. Effects of ski piste preparation on alpine vegetation. Journal of applied ecology 42, 306-313
  4. ^ Moen, J., & Fredman, P. (2007). Effects of Climate Change on Alpine Skiing in Sweden. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 15(4), 418-437. doi:10.2167/jost624.0
  5. ^ Madigan, Chris. "Chris Madigan on the Environmental Impact of Ski Resorts | Travel | The Guardian." Latest News, Comment and Reviews from the Guardian | Guardian.co.uk. 23 Dec. 2006. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2006/dec/23/green.skiing.saturday>.
  6. ^ Toothman, Jessika. "How Ski Resorts Work" 5 October 2009. HowStuffWorks.com.<http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/snow-sports/ski-resorts.htm> 27 February 2011.
  7. ^ "Respect the Mountain - Ski Club of Great Britain." Ski Resort Guides, Snow Forecasts & Ski Holiday Deals - Ski Club of Great Britain. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. <http://www.skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/respectthemountain/default.aspx>.
  8. ^ "Welcome to the 2011 Ski Area Report Card." Ski Area Citizens Coalition. 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. http://www.skiareacitizens.com/

Rixen, Christian; Rolando, Antonio (eds) The Impacts of Skiing and Related Winter Recreational Activities on Mountain Environments ISBN 978-1-60805-632-3

Burr, Eric (2008) Ski Trails and Wildlife: Toward Snow Country Restoration Trafford Publishing ISBN 9781412058179