A heavy cold has meant I have been watching more of the Winter Olympics than is perhaps good for me. And I have got to ask myself why? (Why I have been watching it, that is.)
Well, I reckon it just boils down to my competitive instinct because I hate the cold, can hardly stand up on ice, let alone with skates on, and I get vertigo at the top of a step ladder. Just watching the TV shots of the downhill racers, snowboarders and ski jumpers poised to plunge down a sheer drop makes me jittery.
The curling didn’t seem so intimidating until I realised that it’s actually a game of chess on ice, all strategy and permutations. Then there’s the luge and skeleton. I just can’t imagine why you would think it was a fun thing to do. At least the bobsleigh resembles something you might find on a Christmas card and has some purpose to it. Like a lot of things though, it is not as easy as it seems. You have to be able to sprint without using your arms. But how fast your arms pump dictates how fast your legs go and this was the undoing of Linford Christie’s bobsleigh career, or so my daughter was told when she had a go at the Bath University track. Her problem was not her sprinting but her inability to jump into the back of the bobsleigh.
No, I will stay in the steamy comfort of the University College Birmingham kitchens any day, my ski-ing days over before they have started. Yet I have friends who are keen skiers and would forego a summer holiday to ensure a week on the snow in winter. But are they right to do so?
With my sustainability hat on, I would have to say no. My son-in-law is assiduous in his recycling, has just bought an electric car and cycles whenever he can to work in London. He also has an allotment. Yet he loves skiing and golf, arguably two of the worst offenders when it comes to sustainable leisure pursuits.
Over 14 years ago, a United Nations Environment Programme report on the impact of tourism warned that the construction and maintenance of golf courses was harmful to fragile ecosystems the world over. Ben Adler cited in The Guardian that an average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand needs 1,500kg of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides per year and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers.
Okay, so things have changed a little since then, and there is a big drive (sorry about the pun) to encourage more sustainable golf courses. However, some would say it is just papering over the cracks.
What about the ski slopes then? From flattening trees for creating runs to energy-guzzling infrastructure, snow sports stand accused of destroying the very environment they celebrate, says National Geographic (2018). It predicts climate change will see an end to the ski industry within the next 80 years in all but high or very northern locations.
Ironic or what? For snowsports to survive, global warming must be stopped, yet the resorts are leaving a huge carbon footprint that’s contributing to climate change. says National Geographic.
While the Milano Cortina 2026 Winter Games promise to be the greenest yet, the clock is clearly ticking. But the absence of the winter games in future would at least have the benefit of not worrying about the dreaded medal table. Then again, we have only got ourselves to blame. Didn’t we invent downhill skiing?
Picture: How things used to look. This was a postcard from Murren sent to a family member back in 1949. It would be interesting to take the same photo today.