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Wind-powered resorts leave a smaller footprint

Skiing isn’t the greenest pastime, but turbines like this one at Jiminy Peak mitigate the impact.

Like to ski? Want future generations to know the thrill? According to climate-change scientists - and the insurance industry - they may not get the chance. Many of our favourite slopes could be bare in 25 years: Up to 40 per cent of alpine resorts could vanish, with lower-altitude spots such as Whistler suffering the most, predicts a report from London's Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre, commissioned by Halifax Insurance.

Your choices today do make a difference for the future, no matter how small they seem. Ski resorts are among the most energy-intensive of vacation destinations, requiring lots of fuel and energy to power chairlifts and trail groomers, and to keep buildings toasty through the season. As well, they have been criticized for the chemicals used to seed artificial snow, erosion from clearing trees for trails, and biodiversity loss from human encroachment.

Among these, diverting water to make snow can be a big issue, especially in the Alps, says Professor Daniel Scott, Canada Research Chair in Global Change and Tourism at the University of Waterloo. But, he says, "the biggest challenge is energy use."

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Many resorts are now powering themselves with local renewable-energy projects, such as Whistler Blackcomb, which is in the process of installing a micro hydroelectricity facility (with a much smaller impact on the landscape than a large-scale dam). This will produce enough energy to power the resort and then some, to be fed back to the grid.

Others, such as Grouse Mountain in B.C. and Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts, are powering themselves with their own wind turbines; Jiminy was the first resort in North America to have its own wind turbine when it went up in 2007, supplying about half the resort's energy needs, and the Grouse turbine will supply up to 25 per cent of the area's power needs in the winter when it is fully operational this month.

Aspen, Colo., is considered one of the greenest resorts, Scott says. It has been working on its sustainable credentials for a long time, and the city and the Aspen Skiing Company are now listed on the Chicago Climate Exchange, meaning they actually lose money if they don't stick to targets.

"But to put all this in context, the emissions created by a trip to a green resort in Europe far outweigh the impact of your vacation once you get there," Scott says. "How you get there should really be in people's minds."

So people in Montreal and Toronto should think more about driving to Tremblant than flying overseas or out west, he says.

Equipment companies are also coming out with green gear, such as boots, skis and gloves made from recyclable (or recycled) materials, natural fibres and plant-based inks.

Though the impact of what you eat on holiday probably outweighs the impact of the equipment, Scott says, "every little bit counts."

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