Are your old skis headed for a landfill? |

Are your old skis headed for a landfill?

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
The skis rescued from the trash by Dumpster divers aside, plenty of skis and snowboards wind up in landfills, prompting a new push to recycle the gear. (Aspen Times file)

The resort side of the ski industry has been tooting a green horn for quite some time; now the retail and manufacturing sector is also looking at ways to reduce environmental impacts.

“We want to establish measurable goals,” said David Ingemie, president of the Snowsports Industries of America (SIA).

The trade group has been working with the National Ski Areas Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop an environmental charter that will in some ways mirror the NSAA’s Sustainable Slopes program.

“The big thing we’re working on is the recycling of old skis,” Ingemie said. That involves separating the various materials used in skis and shredding the plastic, which can be re-used for materials like flooring.

Ingemie said the biggest challenge is technical, considering how many layers and materials there are in many modern boards.

“They’re engineered to stay together, not to come apart,” he said.

An aggressive recycling program could help save space in landfills, where old skis can at times be a significant part of the waste stream in resort communities.

While some old equipment ends up as hand-me-downs, there are times when ski shops simply get rid of an old rental fleet by taking it to the dump, according Kevin Berg, a recycling specialist with the High Country Conservation Center.

Another logistical challenge involves collecting the old skis and transporting them to shredding facilities, according to Ingemie. SIA and the Natural Resources Defense Council are still working on the math to determine whether the planned recycling program will in fact reduce the industry’s overall carbon footprint.

“The processing might create a bigger carbon footprint than just burying it,” Ingemie said.

The logistics of the widely dispersed industry represent another challenge, Ingemie said.

“The key is, how do we collect it,” Ingemie said, explaining that it can cost up to $10 to get a pair of old skis to a shredding facility.

One answer could be to add an environmental fee on to the price of skis, boots and snowboards.

“Consumers could bring them back and the money would cover the cost of shipping and shredding,” Ingemie said, adding that he’d like to see recycling become part of every retailer’s program.

Ingemie said the SIA is also in talks with major ski equipment manufacturers to see if anything can be done at the production level to make the gear greener.

One big issue is that so much of the gear sold in the United States is made in China. That makes it challenging to set environmental performance standards, Ingemie said.

Another part of the SIA’s initiative is to work with ski and sporting good shops on making those facilities greener.

“We’re pretty sure that retailers can reduce their carbon footprint,” Ingemie said. SIA’s partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council will help set measurable goals for retailers.

But Ingemie candidly admitted that he’s feeling some resistance from the retail side of things.

“We’re hearing things like, ‘show me the benefit,’ and ‘show me the consumer cares,’ ” he said.

One place Ingemie won’t get any push-back is Pioneer Sports in the Summit County community of Frisco, Colo., where the staff is already busy on a slew of projects aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of their retail and rental operations and making the business more sustainable.

Owner Mark Wimberly said his shop is part of a local retail pilot partnership with the High Country Conservation Center.

“Once you start doing it, it’s almost easier. It’s definitely a mindset,” Wimberly said.

Outside, the shop, Denver resident Wendy Howard said she would definitely choose to shop at a store that is making efforts to be more sustainable.

“It seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon,” Howard said, adding that she hadn’t even thought about the issue of old skis ending up in landfills.

“We keep ours in the garage. We probably have about 20 years worth,” she said. “I guess I’d pay an extra $10 on a snowboard if I knew it would go toward recycling.”

Efforts at Pioneer Sports include some of the fundamental, common-sense things like looking at non-toxic cleaners for the store, as well as various products used.

That even includes things like a biodegradable bike cleaner, said Kurt Baehmann, a staffer at Pioneer Sports who is helping lead the green charge.

Baehmann said there are numerous companies that are already thinking green. Yakima, for example, works with the Carbon Fund to offset the manufacture and transport of its products.

Wimberly singled out Arbor snowboards for producing boards made from bamboo, considered to be a highly renewable natural resource.

And Lib Tech is making efforts to use non-toxic resins during production, thereby reducing potentially harmful exposure to employees, he added.

Pioneer Sports is also using Purl Wax, a locally made, eco-friendly brand that doesn’t include petroleum-based materials, Wimberly said.

Wimberly said he also plans to write letters to companies his store works with to try and build more support for eco-friendly business practices, with the goal of reaching a critical mass.

Similarly, Baehmann recently attended a local forum on ski industry environmental issues, and challenged local resorts to make an impact on the retail and rental side of the equation.

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