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  • Nico Decurtins

Green Winter Athletes

Can Winter Sports and their Athletes be Sustainable? Here’s a closer look at the Annual SAS Pentathlon from a Sustainability perspective, including 6 personal «Pentatips».

Pentathlon – this traditional multi-sporting event in Grindelwald, Switzerland in March is a fixture in a lot of SAS members’ calendar and a great way to wrap up the winter season.

There have been many articles written about the event and lots of stories told. This one is about an aspect that may not seem related at first: Sustainability.

Yes, “sustainability” has become a buzzword. In fact, it is used so excessively that some think it will be the next “non-word”. Yet despite all that, seeing the challenges we are facing as humanity with a changing climate and societal pressures that affect our everyday lives, it is clear that being ABLE to SUSTAIN what our current generation has for future generations is becoming a necessity. That is what SUSTAIN-ABILITY is ultimately about.

To put it quite simply: If we want to enable future generations to enjoy the same lifestyle we are enjoying, we need to think about how we act on this planet and in our society.

The role of sport

Sport has a tremendous power to impact societies. As Nelson Mandela said: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does." That is why it’s important not to forget sport when we talk about sustainability and the goals we are trying to reach. Sport can lead the way, it can be a role model. In fact, it has to because hardly any part of our society is as affected by global challenges such as climate change the way sport is. Sport is both the bearer of the effects as well as a cause for climate change.

Why winter sports?

Outdoor winter sports are amongst the sports that are most affected by climate change. A lack of snow, warm temperatures, too much wind or bad air quality can all cause certain sports simply not to be playable. We learn about traditional winter destinations that are no longer able to host winter sporting events because they have simply gotten too warm. Or there are questions asked about where the next Olympics should be hosted based on the well-recorded changing climate.

The slogan "No Planet, no Play" is particularly relevant to the winter sports community where the interactions between sports and the environment are heavily pronounced. It’s important to consider that it is an interaction because while the climate has an impact on the ability to do sports, we as athletes also impact the climate and the environment in which we try to do our sports. Just think about the consequences of cutting trees in order to create ski slopes for the local biodiversity, the impact that’s created when 40’000 people attend a night-ski race in Austria, the trash produced as a result of a cross-country race or the greenhouse gases emitted when helicopters are used to go skiing abroad.

6 Pentatips

But how can the participants minimize their own footprint as they embark on their journey to Grindelwald?

Pentatip 1: Travel logistics

Traveling as a team is where you can have a positive impact. One medium-sized car should be able to carry all athletes and their baggage. If you’re flying in from overseas, look at ways to compensate for your flight emissions by using the most immediate impact measure, e.g. sustainable aviation fuel over planting trees.

Pentatip 2: Ski and Ski Jumping

Using earth’s resources to produce goods is a major cause of environmental harm. This means using less equipment and using the equipment we have for longer, considering buying second-hand stuff, looking at ways to recycle the equipment and identifying opportunities to give the equipment a second life when it comes to the end of its primary lifecycle. While achieving this is difficult when it comes to skis or helmets, it is definitely something that is closely related to the fashion industry, including sports fashion. Make sure you take a look at the fabrics that were used and the materials it is made of. A rule of thumb is that the smaller the share of polyester the better for the environment. And the more local a product is in terms of its input materials and production site the better.

Pentatip 3: Curling

The curling arena in Grindelwald is in the middle of the town. Make it a short walk with your teammates to get into the right spirit instead of taking the car. And don’t complain about the cold temperatures in the arena. Just wear an additional layer.

Pentatip 4: Cross-country skiing

The 5km cross-country skiing race can be brutal. Staying hydrated after the course is essential. Bring your own bottle to do so. No plastic cups or bottles should be required and the amount of trash should be kept to a minimum.

Pentatip 5: Swimming

It is no coincidence that swimming halls are often located close to ice rinks. The waste heat that is generated during the cooling process of the ice is mostly used to heat the water inside the swimming facilities.In Grindelwald that is indeed the case. Once inside, don’t shower too long. It’s not only about the water usage but also about the amount of energy that’s required to produce warm water. If you really want to keep your impact to a minimum, use a small towel, environmentally-friendly soaps and wear a beanie instead of blow-drying your hair…

Pentatip 6: Food & Beverage

Consume local, regional, biological, seasonal food. Go plant-based instead of meat-based. Even if you’re a carnivore: try to go vegetarian or even vegan for your lunches or for one dinner for example. Drink tap-water instead of bottled water.

In the end, living a sustainable life doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. It ultimately comes down to being aware of the issues and making the right decisions. Event organizers have more leverage as they set the guidelines and rules for their events and can affect the footprint of their event through their supply chain.

POW – protect our winters

One of the biggest and most popular initiatives is called “Protect our Winters”. Founded by concerned athletes, it boasts 130’000 supporters and is active in 12 countries. A number of professional athletes such as Swiss Olympic Champion Michelle Gisin, Freeskier Sarah Höfflin or Swiss Slalom specialist Daniel Yule are among the athletes supporting “POW”. Using “Advocacy”, “Nutrition”, “Mobility” and “Education” as the main spheres of influence, “Protect our Winters” is trying to raise awareness on a national and international level.

Learn more

If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between winter sport and sustainability, here are some resources that may be of interest:

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