The Politics of Powder

I’ve made friends from nearly every continent on local ski lifts. Utah’s license plates claiming the “Best Snow on Earth” are validated by the millions of skiers that flood the canyons each year to “catch the powder days” at Snowbird and Alta; “rip some groomers” at Deer Valley; or “hit the parks” at Brighton and Park City. Add to the ski tourists the hordes of locals who will drop anything at a moment’s notice for a good storm, and you’ve got an entire population of people chasing powder here in Utah. However cherished the sport may be, not every skier understands the politics behind protecting our slopes, nor the impact our ski resorts have on the environment.

It’s sort of a cruel cycle. Most skiers experience some sort of connection with their local slopes, but the more they support ski resorts, the more they endanger their very existence. Backcountry skiing is a much more environmentally-conscious option, but it comes with added safety concerns and requires more specific gear and training, making it a less appealing option for many skiers. 

Resort skiing requires “complex and energy-demanding infrastructure, with scores of employees and heavy use of water” [1].  Resorts can also cause deforestation and destruction to alpine habitats. Running a single ski lift for one month uses the same amount of energy as about four households over an entire year. When you add to that the fuel used by the millions of skiers heading up the canyon and flying in to Utah all season long, the environmental costs are staggering.

The good news is, many of the individuals with decision-making power at ski resorts would rather be on the lift than in a boardroom, so ski resorts have started taking additional measures to protect the powder and the terrain itself. Some resorts have adopted solar panels, wind turbines, and small hydro turbines to generate more sustainable energy. Snowbird, for example, produces 75% of its summer power and 55% of its winter power in-house from the Clean Natural Gas Co-Generation Plant. Since summer 2017, Snowbird has recycled over 100,000 pounds of glass and created the R.I.D.E. program to facilitate carpooling, preventing over 250,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering our atmosphere last winter alone [2]. Ten Utah resorts have gone plastic straw free and seven have added electric car charging stations. Alta pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 20% this year, and Cottonwood Heights, Salt Lake City, and Summit County have all pledged to reduce their community carbon footprints to zero by 2032 [3].

Those of us who willingly drop shifts and skip classes for the sake of getting a few runs in know that Utah’s ski resorts must be safeguarded. Our daily actions have environmental consequences, which create a direct impact on our local environment. The world is not impervious to the effects of humanity, and our canyons are no exception. Skiers need to choose resorts that take responsibility for and work to prevent their adverse effects on climate, to vote for legislators who will prioritize environmental measures, and to make choices in their own lives such as carpooling or using public transport, reducing single-use plastic, and educating themselves on environmental issues. 

Skiing has been a part of my family for generations, so I am more than willing to vote in city and state elections for candidates who prioritize environmental measures on a local scale. I will research the environmental protection measures of the resorts I choose (Look them up! Not all resorts are created equal!), and I will make the sacrifices necessary to cut back on my own negative impact on the environment. I will pay attention to the good and the bad decisions made by resorts regarding policies and expansions (Mary Ellen Gulch in American Fork Canyon… some more homework for you) and I will support local organizations like Save Our Canyons and Ski Utah. I’m quite certain that many of you already outpace me in these efforts, but I hope that those who have yet to invest in the politics of powder will do so [4]. 

Go sit on the fifth floor of the library and look out the north windows. That’s Mount Timpanogos. Are those slopes not worth protecting?

[1] https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=3765664&itype=CMSID

[2] https://www.deseret.com/2016/3/9/20584258/my-view-where-we-are-and-what-snowbird-in-american-fork-canyon-really-is

[3] https://www.powder.com/stories/opinion/skiing-is-politics/ 

[4] https://www.snowbird.com/environment/

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Reagan Curtis

REAGAN CURTIS claims Austin, Texas but mainly Highland, Utah as home. As a junior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Design and International Diplomacy, she splits her time between teaching English as a Second Language, interning for the Teach for America, and writing for the BYU David M. Kennedy Center. She is a compulsive concert-goer, semi-obsessive skier, and definitely going to guilt-trip you for not voting.

Latest posts by Reagan Curtis (see all)

Reagan Curtis

REAGAN CURTIS claims Austin, Texas but mainly Highland, Utah as home. As a junior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Design and International Diplomacy, she splits her time between teaching English as a Second Language, interning for the Teach for America, and writing for the BYU David M. Kennedy Center. She is a compulsive concert-goer, semi-obsessive skier, and definitely going to guilt-trip you for not voting.

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