Fresh Ideas: A ski experience that's practically carbon-neutral

Sierra Nevada ski areas are on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, they understand that future business - even survival of the business at all - will be severely impacted by global warming. By 2050, a combination of delayed snow accumulation and earlier snowmelt could shorten the Sierra Nevada ski season by three to six weeks. By the end of the century, the ski season could be shortened by 7 to 15 weeks. That is a lot of business that won't take place.

On the other hand, skiing is a carbon-intensive sport. Visitors fly or drive long distances to ski resorts. Chair lifts use a lot of electricity. Lodges, restaurants and condos in snow country take a lot of energy to heat.

But ski areas are starting to go green. Of course, every ski area in the world could become an optimally low-carbon operation and it still would have little effect on global warming. Nevertheless, operators appear to understand that since their industry will suffer under global warming, they should take leadership in making their operations as low-carbon as possible.

What are Tahoe ski areas doing?

"SkiGreen" tags are on sale at Kirkwood, Alpine Meadows, Northstar, Sierra-At-Tahoe and Mt. Rose. In a program designed by the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, the resorts offer the green tags for sale with daily lift passes or with season passes. Proceeds are used toward supporting renewable energy through the Bonneville Environ-mental Foundation.

At Mt. Rose, renewable energy purchased through the SkiGreen tags program matches the annual electrical load of the Northwest and Zephyr chairlifts. Heavenly Valley's Web site reports that "beginning in August of 2006, Heavenly purchased 16 million kilowatt-hours of wind energy per year, offsetting 100 percent of its energy use for the 2007-2008 season."

Kirkwood is exploring renewable energy sources to replace the dirty 1970s-era diesel generators that now power the mountain and village (Though I can't figure out how solar panels will work in a place that gets so much snow - who's going to shovel them?)

The greenest skiing, though, is cross-country because there are no electric-powered lifts - just human-powered gliding through the snow. In fact, probably the most low-impact skiing you can do from Carson City is to go to Spooner Lake Cross Country Ski Area (Full disclosure: I worked at Spooner for a couple of years, and so did my son Charlie). This area, locally owned and operated - and employing several generations of Carson City residents - is only a 20-minute drive from Carson City. You could drive up there with a friend and cut your emissions still further. Between the low carbon footprint and the great exercise, it's practically guilt-free recreation.

• Anne Macquarie, a private sector urban planner, is a long time resident of Carson City.


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