We Need to Protect Our Mountains

Here’s what WeSki are doing, and what you can do, to help.

Matterhorn Mountain, Switzerland

This is the Matterhorn. It’s our favourite mountain. Well, we have many favourites, but it’s up there as most of the WeSki team’s top pick.

It’s easy to think of mountains as these impenetrable, unmovable, unbreakable forces of nature. Great big lumps of rock, that sit there, and do…nothing. In fact, that’s not the case.

The Importance of Our Majestic Mountains

Depending on who you are, your mountain could be your life. For us skiers and boarders, without mountains, we wouldn’t have a place to shred, carve, and lose ourselves in powdays and bluebird journées.

For the communities that live and breathe the resorts we visit, those that sit high up in the Alps, the mountains are more than just a holiday. The mountains are their home. And for many millions of people around the world, mountains don’t just provide shelter, and lands for agriculture and farming animals; they provide the freshwater that we so desperately need to survive too.

15% of the world’s population call mountains ‘home’ and 50% of us get freshwater from the mountains.

International Mountain Day, UN (2019)

Not Being Funny, But I Can’t Really See a Problem Here

Sometimes the effects of climate change aren’t immediately obvious. But for those who live on the mountains, and those who can’t afford to purchase freshly bottled water, these are some of the world’s poorest communities, and they are facing daily struggles to survive.

From Bolivia to the Himalayas, everyone is either affected or threatened by loss of freshwater resources.

The Guardian (2016)

For everyone else in cities around the world, the clock is ticking for us too. Climate change threatens water supplies for London, Tokyo, Jakarta, and Sao Paulo. Water scarcity will touch every continent and every community at some point. Preserving and protecting mountains, therefore, is paramount to the survival of communities worldwide, and their cultures and lifestyles.

The Himalayas

Mountains Matter for Youth

The 2019 theme for International Mountain Day is Mountains Matter for Youth. Increasingly, the effects of mountain eco-systems falling out of whack, is abandonment of these mountain regions by young people looking for a better future. This migration causes land degradation, abandonment of agricultural practices, and threatens to wipe out cultural traditions.

Bolivian Girl and her Llama
A Bolivian girl with her baby Llama, Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Mountains Equals Water

Mountains are often called nature’s water towers. They stop air from circulating continuously around the globe and instead force air upwards. The air then condenses in the colder temperatures and forms clouds. Clouds eventually produce rain and (our favourite) snow.

During summer, snow and ice, found on glaciers on these mountains, melts off, releasing water back into streams and rivers. The glaciers require cold temperatures during the winter to stop glaciers from completely disappearing.

This means that for mountains that are in semi-arid and arid regions (places where things get pretty dry), mountains are vital for providing up to 90% of the freshwater needed by ecosystems and communities to survive. 

Climate change threatens to forever changes these natural wonders and the ecosystems that rely on them. Glaciers are melting at alarming rates, meaning that seasonal cycles are shifting out of normal routine, freshwater resources are shrinking, water levels are rising, and ecosystems are crumbling.

The Science Behind Mountains Producing Freshwater

Unlike pumping it straight out of a freshwater lake, freshwater in mountains is extracted either from below the glacier, or from glacial run off. Freshwater, which makes up 3% of our worlds’ water also can be extracted from groundwater.

Lake Superior, Michigan
The largest freshwater lake in the world: Lake Superior in Michigan, USA

Water is extracted from beneath the glacier, like from Mer de Glace in Chamonix.

Mer de Glace, Chamonix
Mer de Glace, Chamonix, France

Other glaciers melt and run off into freshwater streams, like the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina (pictured below), which is the third largest reserve of freshwater on the planet.

Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Glacial Freshwater Reserves Are Shrinking

The Alps water reserves are shrinking, with 54% loss of ice area since 1850. In Bolivia, glaciers have shrunk by almost 50% in the past 50 years.

1.9 billion people at risk from mountain water shortages, study shows

Headline from the Guardian (2019)

The Alps makes up about 11% of Europe’s surface area, yet it provides around 90% of water to lowland Europe, which is used to power 500 power plants, for drinking water, and irrigation. This story reflects a narrative that spreads to every corner of the earth. Worldwide, we are running out of freshwater.

What Can WeSki Do to Help?

We’re working hard on re-thinking our business practices to find more sustainable options both in the product we provide our customers and in how we behave as a company and team. In other words:

🌲 We’re considering introducing new features to help our customers make greener choices when purchasing a ski trip.

🌲 We’re also thinking about ways we can reduce our own carbon footprint; many of us in the office are all making small eco-conscious choices every day. From electric bicycles, to avoiding plastics, and even not replying ‘thanks’ to that email that doesn’t need a reply (yes, people replying with ‘thank you’ to an email comes at a cost of 16,000+ tonnes of carbon per year).

🌲 We’re partnering with organisations like Climeworks to actively tackle the carbon emissions that are already in the environment. Discover more about our partnership with Climeworks here.

Matterhorn Mountain, Switzerland
The Matterhorn, one of the most beautiful mountains in the Alps, Switzerland

What Can You Do to Help?

We’re talking specifically about skiing trips – here’s some things you can consider and try to do on your next ski holiday.

♻️ Switch Out Your flights For a Train Ride or Drive

Trains and cars pollute, but they pollute a lot less. Whilst we can’t offer trains instead of flights right now, we are working on expanding our inventory and (hopefully) adding more green options for when you travel. If you’d rather take the train or drive from the UK, you can book with us and easily remove your flights from your trip.

♻️ Offset Your Carbon Emissions with Climeworks

This amazing company captures CO2 straight out of the air and then turns it into stone or sells it as carbon gas ready for drinks companies to re-use. We love a successful recycling story! You can support their work from as little as a £1 a month, and remove emissions caused by your carbon footprint. Find out more here.

♻️ Visit an Eco-friendly Resort

These three resorts are working hard to become more environmentally friendly and carbon neutral.

Chamonix, France

Having received a green snowflake, the ‘Flocon Vert’, in 2013, 2015, and 2017, Chamonix is at the top of our list. The snowflake is awarded when a resort meets 21 criteria that includes reducing carbon emissions and making other efforts towards protecting the environment. Home to Mont Blanc, and attracting thousands of people every year, Chamonix is a beautiful resort with a lot to offer; from après-ski fun to fantastic food.

Saas Fee, Switzerland

We love this little car-free resort. It holds an ‘Energy Town’ status and it is aiming to become completely carbon-neutral. We especially love that the public transport, including the taxis, are entirely electric. The resort is powered by 100% renewable Valaisian hydroelectric power, meaning everything about the place is greener than green.

Kaprun, Austria

Kaprun’s big ‘green’ move concerns its lifts. It was one of the first resorts in Austria to become an ISO-Certified lift company. What this means, is that the lifts for the Kitzsteinhorn glacier are highly energy-efficient (and safe). Another smart little addition, is that the resort actually uses the lifts to help remove sewage from the mountain. Gross and brilliant at the same time.

♻️ Support Your Favourite Ski Resorts

Keep those mountain communities alive! Stopping tourism from these areas could have a massively detrimental effect of the families and their traditions that they keep alive in the mountains. So, although the flights might be causing the earth some problems that we need to think about, cancelling your ski trips may actually cause more damage to the environment in the long term.

How Can I, As a Skier/Snowboarder, Make a Difference?

To recap, don’t give up skiing. Yes, the emissions you create when skiing (mostly from flying) aren’t helping, but we need to continue to find greener ways to travel and ski, whilst supporting the local communities. Give organisations like Climeworks a thought, when thinking about how to directly address your carbon emissions that you can’t avoid creating.

Have care and concern. The fact is, we have to care more about these communities, not just because we want to use the mountains to ski, but because we should care, and we can make small changes that can positively impact indigenous and threatened communities.

Make small changes and you’ll encourage companies to make big ones. Turn down bottled water, turn down plastic bags, and think hard about what you could do to reduce your carbon footprint. Find your love for the mountain and you’ll find making changes like these a little easier.

WeSki is a global travel platform that allows you to easily discover, share, and book your ski trip with your friends and family. Bookings for the 2019/2020 season are now open.

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