It's all downhill if the white slopes don't turn green

New guidelines are encouraging skiers to help safeguard the environment and the future of their sport. Sarah Barrell reports

Global warming has become a key issue for many areas of the travel industry in recent years but nowhere more so than on the ski slopes.

Global warming has become a key issue for many areas of the travel industry in recent years but nowhere more so than on the ski slopes.

Rising temperatures mean receding glaciers, with some scientists predicting that by the end of the 21st century, 90 per cent of Alpine glaciers will have melted.

In response to these dire forecasts, next week the Ski Club of Great Britain, the UK's leading not-for-profit snow sports club, will launch its new environmental policy. "Going Green" is a set of guidelines that encourages members, the industry and the public to adopt conservation practices that they believe will safeguard both the Alpine environment and the long-term future of skiing.

"It is important that skiers and boarders, and anyone who enjoys the mountains, take responsibility for their impact on this environment," says Caroline Stuart Taylor, Ski Club's chief executive. "For example, by helping to recycle, by choosing resorts that are more pro-active in their environmental policies, everyone can help to protect the mountains for the future."

The club's "Seven-step environmental code of practice" includes practical information on how to use greener modes of transport to get to the mountains (trains rather than planes) and advice on choosing resorts and tour operators with good environmental records.

Over the next few years the organisation will collate a database of resorts and their environmental actions. This kind of information source has previously proved popular with winter-sports lovers in the United States. Under the American National Ski Area Association's "Sustainable Slopes" initiative, skiers can find out which resorts score best when it comes to green practices. Sundance, on the West Coast, repeatedly scores well, as does Aspen, Colorado, the first American resort to introduce an environmental policy.

The club is raising membership subscriptions by 50p to fund a research project to examine the effect of skiing on the environment and also a long-term tree-planting scheme to aid carbon dioxide reduction.

However, the subject of CO 2 is a complex one. No one in the industry disputes that across the globe temperatures are rising and that ski resorts, especially low-lying ones such as those in Scotland and Austria, are under threat as a result. What is disputed by a growing number of scientists, the environmentalist David Bellamy among them, is why this is happening.

In a controversial article in the Daily Mail this summer Bellamy asserted that CO 2 is not the cause of global warming but is rather a "natural phenomenon that has been with us for 13,000 years". While this is an issue that divides ski experts and scientists alike, there is no doubt that the ski industry boom in recent decades has had a significant environmental impact.

Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern, a campaigning group of ethical and fairly traded tourism, believes the Ski Club's policy is just the beginning of what is needed. "This new policy is not comprehensive but it is a good start," she says. "Carbon emissions are not the only issue here. Mass tourism, overdevelopment, waste and energy consumption are also key problems that the Ski Club could help to persuade developers to tackle."

Tignes, the French resort that previously marketed itself as open for skiing 365 days a year, recently appointed an environmental officer and decided that it would be prudent to give the glacier some annual "days off". However, the "year-round skiing" mantle has been quickly taken up by Zermatt, in Switzerland.

With Alpine days - such as we know them - looking numbered, it is hard to imagine that the need for a quick profit will not triumph over conservation.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

This winter the Ski Club of Great Britain (0845 458 0784; www.skiclub.co.uk) is running a "green" holiday to Tignes. Open to club members, the trip will run 15-22 January and costs £725 per person, including half board and travel on Eurostar.

Sustainable Slopes (00 1 303 987 1111; www.nsaa.org).

Tourism Concern (020-7133 3330; www.tourismconcern.org.uk).

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