An Expert Guide to Sustainable Ski Gear
If you like skiing, it's an obvious priority to keep winter around and snow falling for years to come! Check out these ski brands that are going green!
Outdoor sports companies are increasingly producing their gear and conducting business with an eye toward a sustainable future. There are numerous ways they are doing this, with some of the most widespread methods being incorporating recycled materials, limiting waste, and eliminating the use of harmful chemicals. And beyond just the manufacturing process, companies are monitoring the entire product lifecycle, from sourcing materials to packaging and delivery, and ensuring that business is being done in an ethical and socially responsible manner. Now more than ever, brands are aligning themselves with global partners to try and be a positive influence on how the environment is protected.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The most common way that ski companies are producing their products in a sustainable manner is by incorporating more recycled materials. This is probably the easiest change to implement, as it doesn’t require any new manufacturing process to be developed.
Rossignol is a great example of a company that uses recycled materials in its products. Because they manufacture both alpine ski and snowboard equipment and apparel, they have the opportunity to implement recycling in many different ways. For their alpine boots, they expect 40,000 pairs for the 2023/24 season to incorporate some amount of recycled plastics in the shells (Tecnica has implemented a similar program with their boots in Europe).
On the apparel side, Rossignol partners with Primaloft—an industry leader in synthetic insulation material—to incorporate the recycling of plastic boots into insulation for their jackets.
But what about the products already out in the market? What is the most sustainable and eco-friendly product you can possibly buy? The answer is the one you don’t have to buy again.
Norrøna has been making clothing to protect people from the world’s harshest weather for almost 100 years. They believe that a high-quality product with a long lifespan is one of the best measures to make a product more environmentally friendly. Their robust repair network in their stores can fix any defect—or just normal wear and tear—and get the product back to you for years of further use. Not only is this a great way to prevent unnecessary waste, but it’s also much cheaper in the long run—a repair will cost significantly less than a whole new item.
Helly Hansen has a similar belief, and actually includes a repair kit with some of their products. They also have other small details to encourage reuse—a name-tag spot for three generations of kids in their children’s line, for instance.
Helly Hansen has also produced the industry’s first fully waterproof fabric without the use of any chemicals, such as a Durable Water Repellent (DWR), that are traditionally used. Their LIFA Infinity Pro uses hydrophobic fibers to repel water, but remains lightweight and breathable; and since it’s the nature of the fabric and not a coating, it never needs to be reapplied for the life of the product. This is an important step, as studies have shown that the chemical most commonly used as a DWR, long-chain fluorocarbon (C8), breaks down and becomes toxic to plants and animals in the environment.
Responsible and Sustainable Production
Picture Organic Clothing is very upfront with stating the problem, “Everything we do has an impact on the environment. This fact is undeniable.” As a producer of textile goods, they do a lot of harm to the environment. They use a lot of petroleum when waterproofing their materials. They ship their materials around the world, first to be made, and then again to be sold. And every one of those garments is made by using electricity, the production of which is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
Picture Organic doesn’t hide from this, they acknowledge it and tackle the problem head-on. A few years ago, they determined that the vast majority of their carbon footprint as a company came from the production of their products. Despite the fact that their products are sold in over 40 countries, it was the making of their garments that contributed the most to their carbon footprint.
In response, Picture Organic is working to increase the use of renewable and low-carbon energies within their manufacturing process. They’re starting at the top—where they can make the highest impact; their factories in Turkey and Taiwan are where 84% of their total volume is located.
It’s a fact that these factories, and the extreme vast majority of textile factories around the world, are mostly powered by high-carbon-based means (mostly coal, natural gas, and oil). Picture Organic is encouraging their textile partners to implement renewable energy sources, and both locations mentioned have solar panel projects being implemented which will reduce their fossil fuel dependency. However, Picture Organic is a small company that represents just a portion of the overall work of these factories, and they need larger companies to step up and also push for change.
Using Business as a Force for Good
How do you know the company you’re buying from or working with is committed to conducting business in an ethical and environmentally sustainable manner? Picture Organic Clothing sure says the right things about responsible stewardship, but how do you know that they follow through with it? Well, you could visit all the vendors and other global partners they work with to ensure fair-trade practices are being used, follow the trail of non-profit donations they make, and investigate and confirm all the other claims that they make. Or, you could just see that they are a Certified B Corporation, which is a company confirmed to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Since 2006, B Lab has been granting that designation to companies that meet their qualifications. Picture Organic is hardly alone in the ski gear world; they join apparel companies Arc’teryx and Patagonia, independent ski maker Icelantic, and Taos Ski Valley, which became the first major ski resort to be granted the designation.
“The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts”
The notable phrase is commonly attributed to Aristotle and is generally meant to point out when multiple parties can come together and achieve something greater than if they were to work separately. This is the logic behind Protect Our Winters (P.O.W.), a global alliance of athletes, brands, academics, and more in the outdoor community working together to affect systemic political solutions to climate change.
Founded by legendary snowboarder Jeremy Jones, P.O.W. takes a three-prong approach of technology and financial solutions, political will, and cultural shift to attempt to stop and reverse climate change in a meaningful way. By joining together, not only does the outdoor community present a united front to the world, but they also can be much more focused on their tasks.
A multitude of snowsports brands have joined the Alliance since Rossignol wrote the very first funding check in 2007. They are able to accomplish much more together than the brands would on their own. Rossignol makes outdoor snowsports equipment. The North Face, Patagonia, and Smartwool make apparel. It’s not realistic for them to present in front of Congress regarding climate change, or publish a joint study with the Natural Resources Defense Council about how climate change is affecting the economy in winter sports and tourism. But P.O.W. can and has, among other initiatives. There are many branded gear options available to raise awareness and money to put towards their cause, from stickers and shirts, to goggle covers and ski masks.
Sustainability and responsible stewardship has become an important issue for the winter outdoor sports world. Now more than ever, ski brands are just as focused on their environmental impact as they are about their sidecut, turn radius, or rocker profile.
Consumers looking to support brands who are working to be sustainable have a plethora of choices, in all categories of gear. If you have any questions, or are looking for some new gear and want to make sure your gear is responsibly made, reach out to a Curated Ski Expert like me to discuss!