The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Oct 2012

The Nasty Environmental Impact of Making Snow

Snowmaking_tim_syndeySnow gunning. Photo: Tim in Syndey/Flickr

Pointing to the sacredness of the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff, Arizona, a coalition of Native American tribes has been fighting the development and expansion of Arizona Snowbowl ski resort since 1979. It remains defiant, reports the New York Times, despite having suffered a key legal defeat this winter. A federal court ruled against the tribes in a nearly decade-old lawsuit that claims the ski resort's plans to use treated wastewater from Flagstaff's sewage system to make artificial snow for the resort would interfere with religious practices and mar the mountains. 

Wait. The resort will use sewage to make snow? Technically, yes. That's why the story has garnered lots of attention. But recycling treated wastewater for applications that do not require potable water is not nearly as icky, nor as uncommon, as it might sound. This type of water is commonly used for irrigating golf courses and soccer fields, for example.

While Arizona Snowbowl would be the first resort in the U.S. to use 100 percent treated wastewater to make snow, it's a common practice in Europe and in parts of Australia, says Hunter Sykes, an environmental sustainability consultant who closely tracks the outdoor recreation industry and produced a 2007 documentary about the environmental impacts of rampant ski resort development called Resorting to Madness. "Most people who work with wastewater don't see this an issue, because it's not going to make people sick and, as far as we know, it's not going to contaminate flora or fauna," he says.

Not everyone is quite so comfortable, though, with the idea of using treated wastewater for snowmaking. Among the groups that oppose it, on the grounds that the water may contain chemical inputs from pharmaceuticals and other potentially hazardous hard-to-trace sources, include the Center for Biological Diversity. Sykes agrees that there is still much we don't understand about the chemical agents that persist in treated wastewater and how they could impact the ecosystems into which they're released, but says if it was up to him, he would use the treated wastewater.

Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director for the Center for Biological Diversity points to a study that linked wastewater effluent released into a creek in Boulder, Colorado, with abnormal fish gender distributions. "There is an emerging and growing list of compounds [about which] we don't know the affects," he says, but we know that endocrine disruptors [in wastewater] will change fish sex ratios. This points to the need for additional research and more advanced water treatment."

But McKinnon and Sykes do agree on one thing: the real story here is the increase in snowmaking, industry wide, and the wider environmental impacts of making snow.

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It's Hard Out There for a Wolf

Snowmaking_tim_syndeyCanus lupus. Photo: S.R. Maglione/Shutterstock

In children’s literature, wolves pretty much always get a bad rap. Think Little Red Riding Hood, the three poor pigs, and pretty much every cute, furry, unsuspecting critter in Richard Scarry’s entire opus.

In our house, we make a point of talking up wolves and pretty much all animals, wild or domesticated. Our girls are friends to dogs, seemingly fearless about snakes, and obsessed with lizards. For them, the biggest incentive to go hiking is the chance of seeing a bear—never mind that they’re both so loud they’ll likely never come within a mile of one, or that if they did, they’d be terrified. Once on a hike in town, my then-three-year-old spotted a lone coyote standing under a juniper tree on a far hill across the arroyo. A year later, she’s still talking about it. We're trying to instill in our girls an awe for wild animals and remind them that they are wild, and deserve our respect—and room to roam.

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The USADA Report Against Lance Armstrong, by the Numbers

Screen Shot 2012-10-11 at 10.10.37 AMLance Armstrong's "zip the lips" gesture to cyclist Filippo Simeoni, who testified against Dr. Michele Ferrari.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency's report on Lance Armstrong doesn’t just say he that doped. It says he was the ringleader of the grandest doping scheme in recent team sports history and that he intimidated his teammates and involved his wife in an illicit quest to win.

Two of the earliest examples of Armstrong's role as a doping kingpin in the USADA report come in 1998, the year he signed with the U.S. Postal Team after beating cancer. The instances demonstrate that he relied on cortisone as a doping substance and helped others on his team do the same.

During the World Championships at Valkenberg in the Netherlands, Armstrong asked his wife Kristin to wrap cortisone tablets in tinfoil. She did, then handed them to him and his teammates. "Lance’s wife is rolling joints," one teammate said.

After a tough day of riding during the Vuelta a España, Armstrong asked teammates Jonathan Vaughters and Christian Vande Velde to go to the car and get a cortisone pill for him. When the pair found no such pill, they came up with a placebo, whittling down an aspirin, wrapping it in tinfoil, and giving it to Armstrong.

In 1998, Lance Armstrong had not yet won his first Tour de France. Yet, even at this point in his career, he was already doping, involving his wife in his doping, and had his teammates in a position where they felt compelled to lie to him in order to satisfy his desire for drugs. The USADA has piled up loads of examples demonstrating that Armstrong and his team doped during each of the seven successive years he won the Tour de France. The quasi-governmental agency said the evidence was enough to prove, "a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history."

The full USADA report is roughly 200 pages. Because you may not have time to read it all, we’ve included some of key findings below, focusing on the numbers.

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An Amazing Black and White Image of the Northern Lights

8076943401_b2a65bb2fe_cAurora Borealis as seen from Space. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory/Flickr

On October 4 and 5, a coronal mass ejection from the sun sent an explosion of particles speeding toward earth. Three days later, those particles hit the earth's magnetic field. The magnetic field funneled the particles into the atmosphere near the poles, where they collided with gases in the upper atmosphere to release dramatic waves of colorful light over Canada's Quebec and Ontario provinces. You don't get to see the green and purple colors in the photo above—taken early on the morning of October 8, 2012, by a NASA satellite—but you do get a pretty good idea for the size and scope of the massive swell of light.

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