As big proponents of human-powered recreation (after all, Bluebird Backcountry is the only human-powered ski area in the US), we’ve long wondered whether or not backcountry skiing is more sustainable than resort skiing.
With lifts and snow-makers running all day and the heat cranking in big lodges, it would be easy to imagine that ski resorts have a huge carbon footprint. Likewise, it would follow that eschewing those resorts should come with a lot of carbon savings.
The truth is that both backcountry and resort recreation result in a lot of carbon emissions, but not from the ski areas themselves. Most of the carbon cost of a ski day comes from lodging and transportation.
That’s good news and bad news. The good news is that we don’t have to feel guilty about frequenting our favorite resorts, which are great venues for learning downhill techniques in an accessible, avalanche-controlled environment. The bad news is that most skiers and riders have big carbon footprints, regardless of venue, and we all need to step up our game to ensure that we’re enjoying the mountains in an eco-friendly way.
So, is backcountry skiing more sustainable than resort skiing? Sure, but only by a little bit. Here’s what you can do to ski more sustainably—and what Bluebird is doing to hold up our end of the deal.
5 Ways to Ski More Sustainably
1. Take it Backcountry
OK, we know we just said that lifts aren’t skiing’s main source of carbon output. But groomers, lifts, snow-makers, and gondolas all require a lot of energy to operate, and a lot of resources to build and maintain. (Some resorts are working to up their renewable energy use, but that can be a long process.)
Plus, wide-open ski-resort groomers are often created by clear-cutting strips of mountainside. That removes swathes of valuable woodland habitat from the landscape.
Backcountry skiing and splitboarding not only let you ski more sustainably by saving on fossil fuels, but they also help adventurers establish a closer connection with nature—the first step in becoming passionate about protecting wild places in the future.
(New to the sport? As a patrolled, avalanche-mitigated, lift-free ski area, Bluebird Backcountry is a great place to take a clinic, test out some rental gear, or otherwise try backcountry skiing or splitboarding in a safer environment. Bonus: The base area’s electronics and lighting are entirely solar-powered.)
2. Carpool to the slopes
Right now, COVID-19 is a big barrier to carpooling. But it’s never too early to make a resolution to pack your car with buddies the next time you head to the mountains in “normal times.”
Carpooling not only drastically reduces your personal carbon footprint; it alleviates traffic problems for everybody else, too.
(Pro Tip: Get a 4-Pack or 10-Pack of day passes next time you bring your crew to Bluebird Backcountry. The passes are transferable, so you and your friends can all save money by going in together.)
3. Be Mindful of Your Plastic Waste
A great way to ski more sustainably is to travel more sustainably.
Many of us are really good about bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, or bringing our coffee to work in our own travel mug. But for a lot of us, that all goes out the window when we travel.
You can reduce your carbon footprint (and save money) by packing your lunch in a reusable container and bringing your own coffee to the slopes in a thermos instead of buying something wrapped in styrofoam or plastic on the road.
At Bluebird, we balance convenience and consciousness by serving all our base-area food—like s’mores, local breakfast burritos, hot coffee, and chili—in compostable dishware by Eco-Products. Our food trays are also made from reclaimed wood. (Locals Meg and Jack Norton at Crosscut Reclaimed created the trays as well as our Mountain Portal, which is made from sustainably harvested beetle-kill pine.)
4. Reduce Your Vacation Commute
The best thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is to pack your ski or snowboard days back-to-back. Instead of driving back and forth from the mountain every day or every weekend, turn a trip into a longer vacation. Then, book lodging as close to the ski area as possible. Better yet: Go in with some friends to reduce your lodging footprint.
At Bluebird, we offer affordable camping just 2 miles from the Bluebird base. If you have a good four-season setup, camping at Bluebird is hands-down the most eco-friendly option for an extended weekend.
5. Eat Local
One of the best ways to ski more sustainably is to travel more sustainably. Opt for local meat or produce and locally sourced supplies, which have a lower carbon footprint from reduced shipping requirements.
At Bluebird, we source all the ingredients for our hot food from the local general store, the Kremmling Mercantile. The snacks we serve at our base are also from local brands like Honey Stinger or KeenOne, most of which are based 50 miles or fewer from Bluebird Backcountry.
On Sundays, we offer another fun dining option, too: In the afternoon, Elevated Independent Energy powers up their solar-powered grill to make lunch for Bluebird guests. (Elevated Independent Energy has been providing all the solar power that keeps the lights on at the base area—another big sustainability win!)