In the December 6, 2018, issue of the Goat, the editor, in commenting on his visit to the Zilmer Glacier last summer, notes the irony of using a fossil fuel powered vehicle to access the glacier. The irony being that emissions from the helicopter used to visit the glacier are contributing to global warming and the melting of the very glacier they went to see.
The same issue of the Goat reported on the economic value of the snowmobiling industry. Dare I observe that the snowmobile industry is a carbon intensive industry – they arrive in fossil fuel powered trucks and every sled burns fossil fuel everywhere it goes. This industry produces greenhouse gasses at every turn. Snowmobiles are also contributing to our climate change problem.
The reality of climate change is forcing itself upon us, one evidence being the melting of local glaciers as reported in that issue of the Goat. Another being the severity of forest fires we have experienced in BC these past two summers, also reported in that issue of the Goat. While the Goat article didn’t blame climate change for the increase in forest fires, other authors do. See for example “How climate change is making B.C.’s wildfire season hotter, longer, drier” from The Narwhal. And there has been widespread media coverage of the recent report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), often under such titles as “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN.” We need to decrease our climate changing emissions. This has obvious implications for heli-skiing and snowmobiling.
But there is a winter backcountry user with a smaller carbon footprint – the self-propelled backcountry skier or snowboarder. It seems logical that we should be protecting ski terrain and seeking to develop the economic potential of low carbon non-motorized recreation. While I know self-propelled backcountry users also drive fossil fuel powered vehicles, the bulk of their day is spent in zero-carbon recreation. Any way you calculate it, climate changing emissions are lower for non-motorized recreation. Yet in the competition for terrain, snowmobiles too often displace skiers. Without suitable terrain, free from the intrusions of motorized users, we are turning our backs on whatever economic and quality of life opportunities are to be found in non-motorized recreation, and on the environmental advantages of lower emissions inherent to non-motorized recreation.