Lake Simcoe lies in Ontario’s Snowbelt, a region of heavy lake-effect snowfall that favours a thriving winter tourism season. Home to several ski resorts, hundreds of kilometers of trails and parks, winter outdoor recreation activities around Lake Simcoe abound, from alpine to nordic skiing, snowboarding to snowshoeing. However, shrinking snow in the face of climate change, and subsequently shorter ski seasons, are becoming a real threat to Lake Simcoe winter tourism.
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources Climate Change Research Report on the Lake Simcoe watershed 2012, climate projection models indicate the alpine ski season will be significantly shorter by the end of the century. Snowmaking costs will also increase, making it increasingly challenging to achieve a 12-week ski season.
It appears nordic skiing in the Lake Simcoe watershed will be even more vulnerable to climate change as snow isn’t usually supplemented by artificial snowmaking. The report estimates the cross-country ski season will be 39 – 55 % shorter in the 2020s and up to 86 % shorter by the end of this century based on the combination of various climate model scenarios.
Add to this gloomy projection the approximately 5,000 residents employed by local ski resorts – also the number one employer of youth in the region – who may be affected by a shorter work season and less busy hills; climate change may have far reaching effects on the local economy.
The good news is, as an industry that relies so heavily on climate and the scenic beauty of our natural areas, ski operators can easily leverage community support for reducing their impacts and mitigating the effects of climate change. Implementing environmentally sustainable and energy efficient practices are the only way forward.
In its fifteenth year, the National Ski Area Association’s over 190 resorts have adopted the Sustainable Slopes program to improve environmental performance in ski area operations and management. This Environmental Charter addresses the sustainable use of natural resources through 21 environmental principles covering issues of energy use for snowmaking to wastewater management, transportation, education and advocacy. Most recently, some member resorts are taking part in the program’s Climate Challenge – tracking, setting targets and taking action to reduce their carbon footprints.
The first and only Canadian resort to take part in the Climate Challenge is local leader, Beaver Valley Ski Club in Markdale, Ontario approximately one hour west of Barrie. They are working on projects to reduce green house gas emissions and have obtained third-party LEAF certification for responsible kitchen management. Their practices include using reusable dishware, 100% post-consumer recycled paper products and locally sourced menu items. They’ve moved ahead on waste diversion from single stream recycling to three-stream that includes an organic waste program.
While there’s much to draw from Beaver Valley’s environmental best practices, ski resorts here in the Lake Simcoe watershed are also beginning to see the big picture. Notably, Harwood Ski & Bike in Oro-Medonte Township is quickly plowing the way to becoming a local industry leader in green tourism. For instance, they’ve chosen to run their snow groomer on canola oil. The environmentally safe vegetable oil is nontoxic and saves the company an enormous amount in potential environmental remediation costs if they were to encounter a hydraulic leak, which could shut down operations. The benefit of mitigating risk alone serves as a huge incentive to steering away from fossil fuels.
Gareth Houben, Assistant General Manager explained that to make practices such as converting to biodiesel commonplace, there needs to be a change of mindset in the industry to see the benefits of cost savings and lowered environmental impacts from a long-term point of view.
Hardwood Ski and Bike is now looking into how it can green its supply chain, moving towards biodegradable food and beverage service products, which will go a long way towards their efforts to divert waste from the local landfill. Similarly, they’ve moved to recycled paper for promotional printing and introduced a discount to visitors who bring their own reusable coffee cup.
The cross country ski and mountain bike resort recently applied for a grant through the Electric Vehicle Chargers Ontario program, which, if approved, would put them on the map as a tourism business on the public EV grid the Government of Ontario plans to expand. Taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint, Hardwood Ski and Bike hopes to engage visitors and the outdoor recreation and ski industry on taking action to protect our natural areas.
So, we shouldn’t hang up our ski poles just yet. As consumer demand for sustainability continues to grow (according to a study by Ryerson University, 2015, 61 % of visitors to Lake Simcoe are considering businesses that showcase these actions), tourism businesses can grow Lake Simcoe into a climate-friendly community.