Q: Any suggestions on good green fun in the snow?
A: Despite the grumblings of many urbanites, winter is a magical season. Especially if you make the most of it by pulling out a toboggan, skis, skates, snowshoes, hell, even just a warm pair of hiking boots. Trouble is, not all those activities are as benign as, say, building a snowman. What could be wrong with tobogganing, you ask? It all comes down to your sliding device of choice.
Many plastic sleds and snow tubes are made with that toxin leacher PVC. Others are made with PE foam core, which isn't nearly as bad toxin-wise. Your best bet is the old-fashioned biodegradable wooden toboggan available at Canadian Tire ($69.99) and some Home Depots (like Parkdale Home Depot on Queen West, for $34.99). But we can't guarantee they're made from sustainably harvested wood. Whatever slide you choose, note that the gleeful activity can lead to topsoil erosion in popular sliding spots.
Of course, multiply that soil erosion by a thousand, add super-wasteful snow-makers, glaring lights and heated chair lifts and you've got yourself a ski hill. Besides the fact that every new resort or run destroys many animals' homes, snow machines can divert valuable water from local streams, and bio-accumulative snow-hardening chemicals end up polluting soil and water.
Some resorts are trying to green up their act. Blue Mountain in Collingwood is the only resort in the province that's signed onto the U.S. National Ski Area Association's Sustainable Slopes charter. It hasn't gone as far as some U.S. hills that power their chair lifts with wind turbines, but at least Blue Mountain is composting and recycling. Plus, it retrofitted most of its lighting with CFLs (compact fluorescents), started a staff carpooling program and has an annual enviro outreach day called Keep Winter Cool. It's maybe the closest hill to Toronto, too, so you'll use less fossil fuel getting there (especially if you carpool).
By the way, some greenies say backcountry skiing is more eco-friendly, since no chair lifts, snow-makers or hardening chemicals are involved. Others say you shouldn't go off-trail, since you may damage fragile plants and disturb local animals.
Either way, if you need a snowboard, get one made from sustainably harvested wood, like anything by Arbor (available at Boardsports on Yonge, from $439). Venture snowboards are Forest Stewardship Council certified and go for under $620 (order online at venturesnowboards.com). Or go the used route from $75 at Play It Again Sports on Yonge, Gerrard East and other locations. And instead of rubbing petrochemical wax on your skis or board, which can wind up in groundwater, get 100 per cent biodegradable soy-based Bio-Glide wax ($5.50/bar, www. welovesoy.com).
If you're a fan of cross-country skiing, you can glide in peace, knowing you're doing much less damage to the ecosystem, though trails shouldn't go through known feeding areas, nesting or breeding grounds. Conservation areas and provincial parks can be great places to ski. Albion Hills (1-800-838-9921) and Boyne Valley (705-435-4331) offer other winter activities like snowshoeing (which is super-low-impact) and ice skating. And they hold classes for children about environmental conservation. (Canadatrails.ca lists about 128 cross-country trails.)
Speaking of skating, there are about 2,200 arenas and 1,322 curling rinks in Canada, most of which are extremely wasteful in terms of their lighting and cooling systems. Ozone-depleting chems are used in ice-making, and the largely propane-powered Zambonis that "clean" the ice actually spew carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other fumes into the poorly ventilated buildings. Electric Zambonis are available but not widely used, mostly because of their high price tag.
Though it's impossible to get concrete numbers, it seems many Ontario rinks got some retrofitting 10 to 15 years ago when the old Ontario Hydro was subsidizing that kind of thing. But you can't know for sure unless you ask your rink. The city of Toronto promises to overhaul both indoor and outdoor rinks in the next year, including energy-saving upgrades.
As for your gear, get second-hand hockey and figure skates (from $19) and goalie pads ($50) at Play It Again Sports.
For more interesting winter activities across the province, check out www. ontariooutdoor.com. Just ignore the segment on snowmobiling. These monsters generate as much pollution in one hour as a late-model car does in a year! But if we can't stop you, make sure you're riding a more efficient 4-stroke rather than 2-stroke engine.
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