Calculating your carbon 'skiprint'

ETHICAL TRAVELLER: ‘WHERE DO you ski?” was a favourite ice-breaker at Parisian parties when I lived there way back in my youth…

ETHICAL TRAVELLER:'WHERE DO you ski?" was a favourite ice-breaker at Parisian parties when I lived there way back in my youth. It was a total conversation stopper for me, being more accustomed to "Where do you drink?" in my home town. Imagine the social suicide and shocked silence when I finally admitted, "Actually, I don't".

I did eventually make it to the slopes, but never quite shook off my piste complex where the ski runs always felt far more like catwalks. Now, sadly, many of them are turning into carbon and chemical runs with vast energy consumption by lifts and piste bashers, as well as artificial snow cannons usurping local water supplies with the help of dodgy additives to quicken the process.

It takes 220,000 gallons of water to create one acre of artificial snow, and with lower mountain regions’ dependence on agriculture during the rest of the year, in areas which are already prone to drought, the local people need their water.

In 2009, the European Environment Agency announced that over the past century temperatures in the Alps had risen by 1.5 degrees, more than twice the global average. The Alpine Convention ( was set up in 1995 to create a framework to ensure sustainable development in the Alps, and its recent research shows that with every degree increase in temperature, the snowline rises 150m further up the mountain.


So now the issue is more “Should I ski?” This is up to you, of course, but like most things, in moderation and in an informed, responsible way, it can still be one of the most exhilarating ways to holiday. In other parts of Europe, many are taking the train instead of the plane now, with Eurostar offering “Skitrain” deals throughout the season. Train travel can reduce carbon emissions of a ski holiday by up to 90 per cent, according to, one of the leading websites showing you which ski packages offer the train over the plane to the pistes.

If you want to opt for a greener ski holiday, which not only takes you by train, but also offers a great variety of low- impact winter holidays such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, as well as how to access them by train, then you should also check out greentraveller. (I declare my interest here, as I co-edit this site.) A high-level snowshoe trek in the Pyrenees, a cross-country ski safari in the Dolomites, and winter walking in Switzerland are just a few of the exciting options available to those who don’t just do downhill.

In reality, however, few people are going to take the train to the pistes from Ireland. So, when you are there, the least you can do is lighten your impact as best as you can.

One of the best resources out there for listing which resorts are doing what in terms of eco initiatives and best practice is This is a French non-profit organisation which lists all the leading European and North American resorts and compares their impacts in terms of water, energy, waste, transport links and visitor numbers and, although it is in French, it has plenty of easy-to-understand illustrations to highlight the goodies from the baddies.

If you want to keep your winter carbon footprint just a bit lighter, and get them really talking at parties, then Scotland is the green place to go for adventures in the snow this year, and easily accessible by ferry and train. Check out Wilderness Scotland (, which has won many awards for its impressive responsible tourism practices, with holidays such as ski touring in the Cairngorms, or a new trip for 2011 which takes you winter walking on Ben Nevis and the Western Highlands. See